Bam Adebayo

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Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo each drop 22, lift Heat past Nuggets

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo each scored 22 points to help the Miami Heat beat the Denver Nuggets 125-105 on Saturday in the first restart game for both teams.

Kelly Olynyk scored all 20 of his points in the fourth quarter for the Heat, who shot 56% from the field.

Nikola Jokic and Jerami Grant each scored 19 points for Denver. The Nuggets played without guards Jamal Murray (hamstring), Will Barton (knee) and Gary Harris (hip). Murray ranks second on the team with 18.8 points per game.

Heat center Meyers Leonard stood during the national anthem, saying it was out of respect forr the U.S. military, while all the coaches and players around him kneeled. His brother, Bailey Leonard, served two tours in Afghanistan with the Marines. Leonard wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt over a jersey that said “Equality.”

Denver led 57-56 at halftime, but Miami outscored the Nuggets 38-22 in the third quarter to lead 94-79 heading into the fourth.

Denver’s Bol Bol, who had some excellent moments in Denver’s scrimmages at Disney, made his official NBA debut. He finished with five points and five rebounds in 11 minutes. Plus he had one amazing pass.

 

Butler scored and was fouled on a layup with just under 10 minutes remaining, and his free throw put the Heat up by 20.

Butler unsuccessfully lobbied the NBA for permission to wear no name or social justice message on his jersey. He stepped onto the court in a jersey with only the No. 22 on the back but had to change into one with his last name on it before the game could start.

Report: NBA raises insurance payout to $2.5 million for career-ending injuries

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For players quickly trying to ramp up their games for the NBA restart in Orlando — which starts tonight (Thursday) — injuries were a significant concern. Going quickly from 0 to 100, or from being quarantined in their home to NBA games, just increased the risks of injuries. Potentially serious ones.

The NBA and NBPA have answered that with an increased insurance payment — 2.5 million for a career-ending injury, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

While $2.5 million is a lot of money, for some young players it will not seem like enough. Jayson Tatum is a lock to get a max contract extension from the Celtics, as is Donovan Mitchell with the Jazz, and likely Brandon Ingram from the Pelicans (who also may extend Lonzo Ball). That’s not even getting into Bam Adebayo with Miami or De'Aaron Fox with Sacramento. For all of them, a major injury heading into a contract year would be devastating.

The league and players’ union also agreed to keep taking 25% of players’ paychecks to be put in an escrow fund to balance out the books at the end of this season and into the next one. It makes sense, the players and NBA split “basketball-related income,” and the NBA is taking a financial bath without fans watching games in arenas.

There are no reported plans to tear up and redo the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement — the players certainly would not want to do that in this economic climate. Some owners… that may be a different story. Right now, Adam Silver has been able to keep everyone playing nice, but if the economic situation worsens considerably for the league, that may be hard to do.

Five dark horse teams to watch during NBA Orlando restart

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We all know the contenders: The Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers. In the East, Boston or Toronto will be there should Milwaukee stumble.

But who are the NBA dark horse teams? What teams could come out of the pack to make a surprising deep playoff run?

Here are the five dark horse teams to watch at the NBA restart in Orlando.

1) Houston Rockets

Small ball — microball, really, with their best center being 6’5” P.J. Tucker — could be big in Orlando.

While Houston’s unorthodox style gets all the press — they do put out athletic lineups that can score a lot of ways — the real key is James Harden and teammates are rested. In his last five games before the league was shut down Harden looked worn down, shooting just 37.4% overall and 25% from three. His legs were not under him. Same with Tucker, who was asked to play more minutes and a larger role in this small-ball system and shot 30% overall and 25% from three in his last five games before the break.

Now Tucker and Harden are rested (Harden had 24 points and 10 assists in the Rockets first scrimmage), paired with the athletic Russell Westbrook (whose shot selection improved over the course of the season). Plus, Eric Gordon is finally healthy and the addition of Robert Covington should be a perfect fit. The Rockets are going to launch threes, attack the rim, put up points, and unapologetically be who they are under Mike D’Antoni. It all could come together and surprise some teams — the Rockets and their small-ball ways are poised to make a deep playoff run.

2) Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers have been a sleeping giant all season long. The problem was their big off-season acquisition, Al Horford, was just not fitting in. When Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Horford shared the court this season, Philadelphia’s offense scored less than a point per possession (0.98) and had all the spacing of a New York subway at rush hour.

At the Orlando restart, Horford will come off the bench and Ben Simmons will start at the four, working more off the ball. That means Shake Milton will get the start at the point, adding a second ball handler and a catch-and-shoot threat. The starting five will be Embiid, Simmons, Milton, Tobias Harris, and Josh Richardson. Will it work? Who knows, that lineup has played zero minutes together this season. But it works on paper, especially now that Simmons is now fully healthy — he even hit a corner three in a scrimmage this week.

If this comes together quickly, Philadelphia is a serious threat to Milwaukee to come out of the East. It could work. If not, coach Brett Brown likely pays the price.

3) Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder were already better than you realized: From Dec. 1 until the shut down they were 33-13 with a +3.9 net rating, and OKC had a top 10 offense and defense. Chris Paul, in the midst of a bounce-back season, has been arguably the most clutch player in the NBA all season — he has shot 57.7% in the clutch (last five minutes of a game within five minutes) and orchestrated a dangerous offense.

Oklahoma City has been at its best this season with a three-guard offense of CP3, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+28.6 net rating in those minutes, giving up less than a point per possession defensively).

Roll that threesome out for some key minutes, get the usual solid minutes from Steven Adams, and the Thunder could surprise teams in the West. OKC simply is better than many fans realize and are a real dark horse in the NBA Orlando restart.

4) Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic. Do we need to say more?

Dallas has the ultimate pick-and-pop partner for Doncic in Kristaps Porzingis (he can roll and finish a lob, too), plus a lot of shooting depth across this roster. Seth Curry looked fantastic in his first game back. They have guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith who knocked it down this season.

Most importantly, Dallas has depth — which can translate into versatility — and a coach in Rick Carlise who knows how to use it. Look for Dallas to move up the West ladder in the seeding games and be a real threat once the playoffs start.

5) Miami Heat

Jimmy Butler showed up and was a perfect fit with the Heat culture this season — now he’s healthy, rested, and ready to go. Remember how far he led Philadelphia last season in the playoffs (but for a couple of crazy Kawhi Leonard bounces the 76ers could have been in the Finals).

The Heat have Bam Adebayo at center, who made the leap to All-Star level player this year. They have scoring off the bench in Goran Dragic. They added veterans who should fit in perfectly in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. They have talented rookies in Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson. There is just a lot to like about this roster, and how a smart coach like Eric Spoelstra can make it all fit together.

Miami could burn a few teams in the East this postseason.

Goran Dragic: Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn not with Heat

Heat players Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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Three Heat rotation players reportedly tested positive for coronavirus. One was Derrick Jones Jr.

The other two?

Goran Dragic said Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn weren’t with the team at Disney World.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Goran Dragic revealed that Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn are the players who are not with the team.

“Hopefully Bam can come and K-Nunn and we can be a whole team and make some damage,” Dragic said. “Some guys are not here. We are eager, expecting them to come, hopefully to be healthy and we can all start practicing together.”

Did Adebayo and Nunn test positive for coronavirus? Not necessarily. They could be absent for other reasons. But there’s obviously some circumstantial evidences.

That people are forced to connect these dots is an indictment of the NBA, which has shown a troubling lack of transparency around its restart.

Adebayo is an All-Star – a two-way big who plays versatile defense and contributes so many ways offensively (finishing, screening, passing). He’d be a huge loss. Nobody on the Heat could come close to duplicating his varied contributions.

Nunn is one of the NBA’s biggest surprises. But Dragic, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro could collectively pick up Nunn’s scoring from the backcourt.

Of course, Adebayo and Nunn might join the team soon. There’s far more we don’t know than know.

Lakers star LeBron James: #FreeWOJ!!

Adrian Wojnarowski
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley sent out a press release complaining about the NBA’s list of approved social-justice messages for jerseys.

ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski replied to the email, “F— you.” (Wojnarowski did not censor the first word.)

Wojnarowski apologized. ESPN condemned his behavior and, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, suspended him two weeks.

Several NBA players have publicly supported Wojnarowski:

Lakers star LeBron James:

Clippers guard Lou Williams:

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray:

Heat big Bam Adebayo:

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie:

Kings forward Harrison Barnes:

Pacers center Myles Turner:

Grizzlies forward Anthony Tolliver:

Wizards wing Troy Brown Jr.:

Trail Blazers guard Jaylen Adams:

LeBron’s message is particularly notable.

Obviously, he’s the NBA’s biggest star. His words carry weight.

Wojnarowski also has a long history of harshly criticizing LeBron. Here are just a few examples.

But if he can get over The Letter from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, LeBron can probably get past anything written about him.