Donovan Mitchell

Lakers lock up No. 1 seed in West with win against Jazz

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Anthony Davis had 42 points and 12 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs by beating the Utah Jazz 116-108 on Monday night.

The Lakers (51-15) own a six-game lead over the second-place Los Angeles Clippers and have five seeding games let before starting their first playoff run since 2013.

“If you’re winning enough games to secure the No. 1 seed, you’re building the right habits that are going to be necessary for you to win in the playoffs,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Obviously we have bigger aspirations than the No. 1 seed, but we are proud of the accomplishment and we’ll enjoy it while we’re getting ready to get our group ready for the playoffs.”

Utah (42-25) has clinched a playoff berth and is fifth in the West, a half-game behind Houston and a half-game ahead of Oklahoma City.

Davis’ final basket resulted in a 4-point play with 42 seconds left, as he sank a 3-pointer while getting fouled by Rudy Gobert and made the ensuing free throw to give the Lakers a 114-104 lead.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell answered with a 4-point play of his own that cut the margin to 114-106 with 36 seconds remaining, but the Jazz couldn’t get any closer. Davis made two free throws with 5.2 seconds left to wrap up the scoring.

LeBron James scored 22 points, Dwight Howard had 11 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 10 for the Lakers.

Mitchell scored 33 and Mike Conley had 24 for Utah. Gobert added 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Jazz.

The Lakers were coming off a 107-92 loss to Toronto in which Davis shot just 2 of 7 and scored 14 points. Davis was much more active Monday right from the start, as he scored 13 points and shot 6 of 14 in the first quarter alone.

Davis had 24 points by halftime, marking the 20th time this season he’s scored at least 20 points in a half.

“Coach just told me to be more aggressive,” Davis said. “He felt like, and I felt like too, that I just kind of played into Toronto’s defense, accepted the double-team. I was making the right plays, but I still have to be aggressive at the same time.”

Utah stayed close and only trailed 58-56 at halftime because it got its own stellar start from Mitchell, who scored 21 points in the first two periods.

Mitchell then connected on a 3-pointer to cap an 8-0 run by Utah to open the second half.

But the Jazz got increasingly careless with the basketball as the third quarter progressed, enabling the Lakers to seize control of the game. The Lakers scored 14 straight points and went on a 19-2 run late in the third quarter.

“When they turn the pressure up, we’ve got to be able to execute even better,” Mitchell said. “We turned the ball over way too many times. They did a great job of taking us out of our actions. … We went up six, they turned it up even more and next thing you know, we’re down 12 or whatever.”

Even after Utah’s Emmanuel Mudiay snapped that run by hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer, the Jazz still trailed 86-76 heading into the final period.

The Lakers stayed in front the rest of the way.

Donovan Mitchell wears bulletproof vest to first bubble game

Jazz star Donovan Mitchell
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Jazz, Pelicans, Lakers and Clippers players kneeled during the national anthem last night. Though that protest – against racism, particularly through police brutality – remains powerful, it has lost some resonance in the years since Colin Kaepernick first did it. People have normalized seeing it, and the most effective peaceful protests spark more of a visceral reaction.

So, Jazz star Donovan Mitchell found a new way to capture attention – wearing a bulletproof vest (covered in names of people killed by police) to his game.

Jeremy Christopher:

Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report:

Mitchell:

There was a quote that really said “Am I next?” on the back of somebody’s jersey. And I think the biggest thing is, it doesn’t matter how much money or it doesn’t matter how famous you are. As an African-American male, that’s who we are. It doesn’t matter what your job is, what your name is. And I think being able to wear a bulletproof vest just shows – and I kind of had my hands up as well, just kind of like look, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” We’re tired of seeing this. We’re tired. We’re tired, and everybody’s tired of it. So for me, to make that statement, I think was just something I really wanted to do. And I think as African Americans, male or female, we’re sick and tired of being afraid.

What a remarkable image – Mitchell arriving to work, listening to headphones, carrying a cup of coffee… and wearing a bulletproof vest.

Black men face a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police during their lifetimes, according to a recent study. That is an incredibly high number! Many more black men have stories of being harassed by police, fearing they’ll be the next statistic.

There are numerous reasons for the problem – from overly intrusive laws to actions of individual police officers and many factors in between. They all should be addressed. First, Americans must recognize the scope of the problem.

Mitchell certainly used his platform well to raise attention to the issue.

Three Things to Know: Kneeling, LeBron game-winner, it’s good to have the NBA back

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The NBA is back, but with all the news coming out of the bubble there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out into the afternoon — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) The games started with players kneeling during the anthem…

NBA players went to Orlando saying they would not let the return of games become a distraction to the Black Lives Matter and social justice movements. They would keep the message in front of people.

They did that on opening night, kneeling during the national anthem before both games. Before the first game, Jazz and Pelicans players, wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, locked arms and took a knee. It was a powerful moment.

The Lakers and Clippers did the same thing before their opening night game.

The team coaches and referees also kneeled.

“[We] played for something. We stood up for something. We kneeled for something,” the Clippers Paul George said after the game. “This league is all about unity. Can’t say it enough. I love being a part of it because of the brotherhood of this league. At the same time, we know that we can change things as well.”

“There’s been progress, but in the past when we’ve seen progress we’ve let our foot off the gas a little bit,” LeBron James said of social justice movements around the NBA (after hitting the game-winner against the Clippers). “We can’t do that. We want to continue to keep our foot on the gas, push forward, continue to spread love throughout America. We’re dealing with a lot of racism, a lot of social injustice, a lot of police brutality, not only in my neighborhoods, not only with Black people, but with people of color. It’s something we want to continue to have people’s ears open to. And we have ears now.”

More than just words, players are taking concrete steps big and small to further that cause. The NBA and players union are helping with that. It was a good look for everyone.

2) … Then the first game ended with everyone asking, “where is Zion?”

The Utah Jazz are a good team trying to find a rhythm, but the New Orleans Pelicans needed this game — they are the ones in a sprint to make the play-in game against Memphis. New Orleans simply cannot afford to lose winnable games, yet the Pelicans — who led 96-89 with 7:00 left — did just that. They blew another fourth-quarter lead, a season-long trend. This come-from-ahead loss was a punch to the gut.

In what had been a sloppy-at-times back-and-forth game, Rudy Gobert sank two free throws — giving him 14 points on the night — to put the Jazz up 106-104 with 6.9 seconds left. New Orleans had one last shot to force overtime, or maybe even get the win.

New Orleans needed its closer and, rookie or not, Zion Williamson is that guy. He had 13 points on the night in 15 minutes of action, seemed an obvious substitution here — New Orleans needed a bucket and the rookie gets buckets.

However, Zion reached his minutes limit (one coach Alvin Gentry refused to discuss pregame but owned up to after), and he wouldn’t put his rookie star in for that last play. For seven seconds.

Should Zion have been on the court?

Yes, for the final shot he should have been. Having Derrick Favors on the court instead allowed the Jazz to switch out and stop the original plan for the Pelicans’ final shot, a red-hot J.J. Redick coming off a triple pin down (although it was open enough, Ingram didn’t try to get him the ball). The backup plan was Brandon Ingram in isolation. He didn’t get off a bad shot, it just missed.

But the gravity of Zion in that setting might well have opened up something better. We’ll never know.

Overall this was a game where two teams played unimpressive defense. Both teams need to tighten up on that end if they are going to make any noise in Orlando.

Despite missing the game-winner, Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 23 points, but another impressive night from him caught the eye of Kevin Durant.

Utah got 23 points off the bench from Jordan Clarkson, plus 20 each from Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell.

Gobert scored the NBA’s first points in its return and had the game-winner at the end.

“Life works in mysterious ways,” Gobert said after the game.

3) Would the NBA be back without a LeBron James game-winner?

It just seemed scripted.

Paul George had tied the game with a three, and things were poised to go to overtime.

LeBron James just knows how to make plays when it matters — he missed his first attempt but followed up his own shot and his second attempt proved to be the game-winner in a dramatic 103-101 win. LeBron wasn’t done, made a great read and switch on the other end — the Clippers tried to run something similar to what got George a three, but LeBron read it and jumped out to blow it up — to preserve the win.

It was a perfect end for Lakers’ nation — and just NBA fans looking for drama. The league brought that opening night.

This game started out looking like a preseason game — 21 fouls in the first quarter while the teams combined to shoot 2-of-15 from three. Scott Foster wanted everyone to know he was there in the bubble. Both teams also struggled with turnovers. It wasn’t pretty but it was to be expected on the first real game after four months off.

With two top-five defenses, these Los Angeles showdowns turn into gritty, grinding games.

Davis said afterward he thrives in those kinds of games — and he did again. His 34 points came on 19 shots, but he got to the free-throw line 17 times. He was a beast on the defensive end as well. The Lakers also got 16 points from Kyle Kuzma and 11 on a strong night from Dion Waiters. The Lakers were +17 in the 21 minutes these two shared the court.

The Clippers got 30 points from Paul George, who looked healthy and rested, and 28 from Kawhi Leonard. The problem is the other Clippers shot 14-of-41 (34.2%). The Clippers missed having Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell coming off the bench to spark that unit, and without them the team’s execution was off all night. Doc Rivers can live with that, the Clipper games that matter against the Lakers will not come for more than a month.

Bonus Thing to Know: It’s official: Tom Thibodeau is the coach of the New York Knicks.

We’d known for five days — and, frankly, for a lot longer than that — Tom Thibodeau would be the next coach of the New York Knicks. Thursday, it became official.

And it’s a great story.

The Knicks got their man. Thibodeau is as good a coach as was available, someone capable of building a culture of hard work, player development (even if his record there is uneven), and personal responsibility — top to bottom — that the franchise needs.

But it means Thibodeau needs to make changes from what we have seen before. He has in the past run players into the ground with short rotations and heavy minutes for the few guys he trusts — in his last full season in Minnesota, both Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were in the top 10 in total minutes played, and both played a full 82-games schedule. The Knicks have promising young players in Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett, but they shouldn’t be playing 38 minutes a night.

Beyond that, the Knicks front office needs to draft better, but then Thibodeau needs to trust his young players, let them play through some mistakes, and coach them up. He needs to show patience, something not considered a Thibodeau strength in the back. Thibs needs to hire development-minded assistant coaches and giving them room to operate (sources around the league have told NBC Sports Thibodeau likes to control everything, designing every practice and game plan, down to the writing on the whiteboard before games and more).

This is a good hire. It can work. But if both Thibodeau and the Knicks organization don’t evolve, it will just be more of the same in Madison Square Garden.

Rudy Gobert scores night’s first points, game-winning free-throws to lift Jazz over Pelicans

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Rudy Gobert sank two free throws with 6.9 seconds left to cap a 14-point, 12-rebound and three-block performance, giving the Utah Jazz a 106-104 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in the first game of the NBA’s restart on Thursday night.

New Orleans, which led for most of the game and by as many as 16 points, nearly pulled out the victory as time expired when Brandon Ingram‘s 3-point attempt rimmed out in a bitter end to his 23-point night.

“He’s made a ton of big shots for us this year, but the bottom line is I don’t think it should have come down to that,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We let a golden opportunity slip away.”

Zion Williamson, who missed nearly two weeks of practice after leaving the team for a family medical matter on July 16, was deemed fit to start, although his playing time was limited.

He scored 13 points in just more than 15 minutes, highlighted by a couple of alley-oop dunks, one on a nearly half-court lob from Lonzo Ball.

But Williamson checked out for good with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter and watched the tense finish from the sideline.

“Of course we wish we could have played him down the stretch, but he’d used the minutes that was given to us, so that’s the way it is,” Gentry said. “We weren’t going to stick him back out there.”

Williamson said he “did want to be out there, but we’re just working my way back into my flow. That’s all it is.”

Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points for Utah and helped lead a second-half comeback, while Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley each added 20.

“When Jordan has space on the floor to work, he’s really difficult to guard,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s what you saw in the second half.”

JJ Redick scored 21, including a clutch 3 to tie it at 102, while Jrue Holiday added 20 points for New Orleans.

The game was tied at 104 after Ingram’s free throws with 32 seconds left and Conley missed inside with just less than 20 seconds to go, but got his own rebound. The Jazz moved the ball to Mitchell, whose drive forced New Orleans to collapse on him before he fed Gobert for a dunk attempt that Derrick Favors could only stop with forceful foul.

“For Donovan to find Rudy at the end of the game there is a heck of a play, and then Rudy goes and makes the two free throws,” Snyder said. “Those guys have done that hundreds and hundreds of times.”

Gobert, who’d featured prominently on defense with clean rejections of Williamson and Favors, calmly made the deciding foul shots.

“He impacts the game so many ways,” Snyder said. “But often times, it’s not with his scoring.”

With Williamson on the bench, New Orleans closed the first quarter with an 18-4 run, highlighted by Ingram’s dunk, finger roll and 3, to take a lead it would hold until late in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans had its biggest lead when Holiday’s fadeaway made it 60-44 late in the second quarter.

After Utah methodically pulled within one possession in the middle of the fourth quarter, New Orleans threatened to pull away again when Ingram hit a pull-up and E'Twaun Moore hit a 3 made possible by Jaxson Hayes‘ offensive rebound.

But the Jazz weren’t finished, going on an 11-1 run, marked by Mitchell’s driving floater off the glass, to take a late three-point lead inside the final four minutes.

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.