The NBA is back: Training camps open, season starts in three weeks

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For the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, it was the shortest offseason ever. For the eight teams that haven’t played since March, the offseason dragged for longer than most seasons last. And for all 30 clubs, questions are far more prevalent than answers these days.

Ready or not, the NBA is back.

Training camps open around the league Tuesday, though on-court sessions will be limited to individual workouts and only for those players who have gotten three negative coronavirus test results back in the last few days. Mandatory “group training activities,” another way to describe what would otherwise be called practice, will begin in some cities Friday and for most clubs Sunday, the league said.

“I feel like a kid getting excited for the first day of school again,” Atlanta guard Trae Young tweeted.

As is the case with school, there will be tests in NBA camps. Lots of them.

Players and coaches will be tested for coronavirus daily around the league, and a positive test at this point would likely derail someone for most of camp and probably into the preseason. The rules are so strict that clubs cannot even hold a team dinner on the eve of training camp; the NBA isn’t allowing those to take place until at least Dec. 11, or the start of Phase 4 in the league’s five-phase plan for health and safety.

“We’re all going to have to be very nimble, first of all keeping guys safe and healthy,” Utah general manager Justin Zanik said Monday. “We’ll get an idea of the schedule, how travel is, how the pandemic affects us. … No one in the NBA, other than a three-month bubble, has ever gone through what we’re about to go through.”

Preseason is less than two weeks away, starting Dec. 11. The regular season starts on Dec. 22, three weeks from Tuesday. A schedule for the first half of the shortened 72-game regular season could be known in the coming days, and many teams are still deciding if they can begin the season with fans in their arenas or not. The NBA champion Lakers have already said they aren’t having fans in their building to start the season; Charlotte and Oklahoma City announced Monday that they will begin their home schedules the same way.

“This is going to be a challenging season for us,” Phoenix general manager James Jones said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that we try to stay COVID-free and try to stay healthy. With 72 games in a condensed season and more or increased back-to-backs means that we’ll have to manage our time appropriately.”

For nine coaches – Tom Thibodeau in New York, Steve Nash in Brooklyn, Billy Donovan in Chicago, Doc Rivers in Philadelphia, Nate Bjorkgren in Indiana, Stan Van Gundy in New Orleans, Stephen Silas in Houston, Mark Daigneault in Oklahoma City and Tyronn Lue with the Los Angeles Clippers – this week marks the formal start of their on-court tenures with their clubs.

It’ll also be the first training camp as head coach for J.B. Bickerstaff in Cleveland; he took over as coach of the Cavaliers in February.

Some teams haven’t played since March 11. Others saw their seasons resume in July, then end in August or September. And for the Lakers and the Heat, the NBA finalists, the season went until mid-October.

Not even two months later, it’s time to play again.

“I think it’s fair to say that coming into the season, given everything that’s going on in the country relative to COVID and the effects that it’s having on everybody both locally and nationally, this is going to be a pretty unique season,” Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti said.

“We’ve never been through a season like this before. No team has.”

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.