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Miami advances with hard-fought win; Milwaukee enters summer of uncertainty

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Giannis Antetokounmpo could not play, his sprained ankle not allowing him to move during warmups, but the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks would not go quietly into that good night.

Down 3-1 and fighting for their playoff lives, the Bucks got 23 points from Khris Middleton and an efficient 17 from the Greek Freak’s replacement, Donte DiVincenzo, but in the end it was just not enough.

The Miami Heat won 103-94 behind a balanced attack — Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic each had 17 points — and the Heat advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2014 (when some guy named LeBron James played for them). Miami will face either Boston or Toronto, the Celtics lead that series 3-2 with Game 6 on Wednesday night.

Milwaukee enters arguably the biggest and most uncertain off-season in franchise history.

The Bucks fought hard not to go down that road. While Milwaukee is not better without Antetokounmpo, they are different — he is not a threat as an outside shooter and his drives gave the Heat a defensive focus, to build a wall and cut him off, then chase down shooters. Without Antetokounmpo on the court, the Bucks’ ball handlers were threats to pull up and fire from three, which created more space and let Milwaukee play faster. It took time for Miami to adjust.

Milwaukee led by as many as 10 in the first quarter, but as the Heat settled down and in the second half their defense was much better. Middleton shot 3-of-15 in the second half as the Heat focused on him.

On the other end, Tyler Herro stepped up with a “how did he slip to 13th?” kind of game and finished with 14 points and was 3-of-7 from deep. Jae Crowder continued his hot shooting and had 16 points, Bam Adebayo pitched in 13.

Miami will advance to a series where they will match up well, the Heat were 2-1 against the Raptors this season and 1-2 against the Celtics (although comparing games in the pre-COVID-19 season to the bubble games is largely a waste). Jimmy Butler has been the MVP of the bubble so far, the Heat are deep and versatile, they have shooting, and Miami can defend. A trip to the Finals is possible, but first up is a few days of rest for Miami.

The Bucks are about to step into the heart of the NBA rumor mill.

Antetokounmpo is eligible for a supermax extension to his contract this offseason, and the Bucks have said they would offer it. There are few in the league as hungry for winning and validation as Antetokounmpo. After this earlier-than-expected playoff exit — where his flaws and the holes in the Bucks’ roster were exposed — there is a sense he is not going to leap at that extension. If he doesn’t sign it, Antetokounmpo becomes a free agent in the summer of 2021.

That would put pressure on the Bucks to reshape the roster — Chris Paul rumors are out there, and Mike Budenholzer could be on the hot seat — to win and keep Antetokounmpo happy. Trade rumors will fly, even though the only way the Bucks trade him is if Antetokounmpo tells them directly (this offseason or before the deadline) he absolutely will not re-sign with them.

That is not what Antetokounmpo was saying after the Game 5 loss Tuesday.

“Hopefully, we can learn from this and get better as a team and come back,” Antetokounmpo said. “And hopefully we can build a culture in Milwaukee that, for many years, we can come out and compete every single year for a championship.”

The Bucks have had the best record in the NBA two years running, but do not have a team and style that has succeeded in the playoffs. Antetokounmpo made it clear that bar is not good enough anymore, but also didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt (Milwaukee is the only home he has ever known in the United States, his family, his partner, and his son is there).

It’s going to be an interesting and intense offseason for the Bucks.

It’s going to be an interesting and intense Eastern Conference Finals for the Heat.

LaMelo Ball not worried about where he gets drafted, “Anywhere is a great fit”

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Lavar Ball has his opinion. Always. When the patriarch of the Ball family went on the “Road Trippin'” podcast a couple of months ago, he said he didn’t want his youngest son, LaMelo Ball, drafted by the Warriors because he would have to come off the bench behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. “Michael Jordan didn’t come off the bench,” was his logic.

LaMelo Ball is about as interested in his father’s opinions as most 19-year-olds.

“I’m my own man. He’s his own man. He has his opinions, I have mine,” the younger Ball said of his father on Monday while speaking to reporters via Zoom as part of the NBA’s pre-draft process.

“I feel I could play on any team and do good anywhere I go,” Ball said. “Anything that happens, I’m positive.”

Ball is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, scheduled for Nov. 18. Rumors have bounced around the league that if the Timberwolves keep the No. 1 pick they will select Ball to pair with D'Angelo Russell in the backcourt. The Warriors have the No. 2 pick, the Charlotte Hornets select third, followed by Chicago then Cleveland.

Ball spent a chunk of his time with reporters denying having had contact with many teams at the top of the draft, although he said he didn’t know about Minnesota. He did say he had contact with the Knicks, who pick eighth, adding they just wanted to get to know him as a person (outside the online persona). Ball will not be on the board when New York makes its pick (the Knicks could trade up to get him, all the teams at the top of the draft are listening to offers).

Ball’s consistent point was he could fit in with any team.

“Anywhere is a great fit,” Ball said. “It’s the NBA. You put me with good players, I feel like it’s even gonna be better.”

Ball said he has adapted to the unprecedented pre-draft process, in part because his path to the NBA is untraditional. He said he realized back when his father had him playing in Lithuania at 16 he was not going to have the more traditional route to the NBA that his brother Lonzo Ball had, but LaMelo embraced it. LaMelo spent last season playing in Australia before returning to the states to prepare for the draft.

“I feel like I am dealing with it well,” Ball said. “I kinda like it, that nobody has been through something like this, it’s kinda unique, like me… I’m one-of-one.”

For now, Ball is in the Detroit area working out, preparing for the draft. He said some of that Detroit toughness is rubbing off on him.

But he’s happy to bring that with him wherever he gets drafted.

NBA playoffs, Finals schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

2020 NBA Finals schedule
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It may be five months after they were originally planned, but the NBA playoff schedule has reached the point the 2020 Finals are here.

It is down to the final two. There is LeBron James leading the Lakers against the team where he first won his ring. And then there is the gritty Miami team that nobody expected to be here — except themselves.

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 for one two-day break between Game 4 and Game 5
Even more members of families for the players, coaches, and team staff are in the bubble for the Finals.

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

NBA FINALS

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Game 1: Sept. 30, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2: Oct. 2, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 3: Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Oct. 6, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Oct. 9, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 6: Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 7: Oct. 13, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
*If necessary.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Conference Finals

Eastern Conference Finals

No. 5 Miami beat No. 3 Boston 4-2

Western Conference Finals

No. 1 L.A. Lakers beat No. 3 Denver 4-1

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

Evolving plan for next NBA season has USA Basketball, Tokyo Olympics in limbo

Tokyo Olympics
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Will NBA players be available to represent their countries when the Tokyo Olympics begin next July 23?

Nobody knows. As the NBA pushes back its start date for next season — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently said it likely would be after the first of the year, but sources around the league tell NBC Sports to expect more like February or March — it leaves USA Basketball and the participation of NBA players in the Olympics in limbo. Here’s what USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo told Chris Sherridan of Basketball News.

“I was told the NBA season would start in December, and then it was Christmas, and then after Jan. 1, and that keeps pushing the schedule for me. The NBA season typically takes 170 or 171 days to complete, so that creates a conflict on paper,” said Colangelo, adding that a suspension of the NBA season in order to clear time for the Olympics also has been discussed…

“If the [NBA] season conflicts with the Olympics, I might have 14 non-playoff teams to choose from, but then other players will become available as the NBA playoffs progress,” Colangelo said. “The problem is that the IOC has a rule mandating an early submission of a 12-man roster. But with a pandemic, the hope would be that you’ve got to set aside outdated rules. I assume people will be reasonable and come up with some kind of a program that works.”

Right now, there is no answer for Colangelo and USA Basketball because there is no answer on next season. The only thing owners seem set on is playing a full 82-game schedule — after taking a financial hit this season, owners want to start making money again — with fans in the building for as many of those games as possible.

If the NBA season starts in February and was condensed slightly, the regular season could be done before the Tokyo Olympics. A Team USA made up of guys who missed the playoffs would still be formidable (this past season that would have included Stephen Curry, Trae Young, Bradley Beal, and others). However, other countries don’t have the luxury of that kind of depth.

Also being discussed is an NHL-style break in the NBA season to allow players to compete in the Olympics, then return to finish the season.

Team USA, despite its struggles at the World Cup last year, still qualified for the Olympics. That was a team depleted of NBA star power because of both injuries and guys not wanting to play the World Cup then Olympics in back-to-back years (nobody knew the coronavirus would blow up those plans).  What players USA Basketball will send to Tokyo remains up in the air.

And there’s little Colangelo can do but wait.

PBT Podcast: NBA Finals preview, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

NBA Finals Preview
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It’s happening in October, not June. And rather than cross-country flights, everyone will be camped out in a bubble in Orlando.

But the NBA Finals are finally here: The Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Miami Heat. Which means it’s time for an NBA Finals Preview.

The Lakers are the heavy favorites but Miami posses some matchup challenges, starting with Bam Adebayo on Anthony Davis. Add in Jimmy Butler checking LeBron James for stretches, and the Heat shooters such as Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, and this is not going to be a cakewalk for Los Angeles.

Mark Medina of the USA today joins Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports for this NBA Finals Preview. They break down the matchups, talk about what it would take for Miami to pull off the upset, and discuss how this matchup could influence how other teams build out their rosters in the future.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.