George Hill

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On this date in NBA history: J.R. Smith forgets the score

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There comes a point in almost every NBA playoff series when one team knows it’s beat. That team threw its best punch and the other team took it and won anyway. While no NBA team would never go into the postgame press conference and say “we’re beat,” it shows up in their tone and body language.

In the 2018 NBA Finals, that moment came after Game 1.

Two years ago today, May 31, the Cavaliers went to Golden State and were on the verge of stealing Game 1 on the road. LeBron James had targeted Stephen Curry on switches to keep the Cavaliers ahead, LeBron thought he drew a charge on Kevin Durant but it was overturned on review and called a block, and a back-and-forth end of the game saw the Warriors go up one when Curry drew and and-1 foul on Kevin Love with 23.5 seconds left.

Of course, the Cavs put the ball in LeBron’s hands out top, the Cavaliers got the switch and had Curry trying to guard LeBron, when LeBron threw a bullet pass to a cutting George Hill. Klay Thompson hooked Hill, and Hill went to the ground. The foul was called and Hill went to the free-throw line.  He hit the first and tied the game 107-107.

Then came the moment.

“He thought we were up one,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said after the game, although Smith was selling at the time he was trying to bring the ball out to get a better shot. The Warriors players thought he was trying to get the ball to LeBron, maybe.

Game 1 went to overtime, where the Warriors dominated (17-7) and got the win. After the game, you could feel it around the Cavaliers — this was their chance and they missed it. The series ended in a Golden State sweep.

It’s a legendary moment of the NBA Finals, even if it’s one Smith and Cavaliers fans would like to forget.

George Hill on NBA’s return: ‘Life itself is bigger than the money aspect of the game’

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With some NBA teams to soon open their practice facilities to players, hope for a resumption of the NBA season — or at least the playoffs — springs eternal. Even if the reality is nobody knows if this is all going to come together.

Milwaukee and its fans are at the front of the line wanting to see the NBA return — for the first time in decades the Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, are legitimate title contenders.

However, their Sixth Man of the Year candidate guard George Hill cautioned against moving too fast. Hill took part in a conference call with the media and said there are things more important than basketball to be considered (hat tip Sacha Pisani of The Sporting News).

“I’m a little 50-50… life itself is bigger than the money aspect of the game. Yes, as competitors and athletes we want to play this season. But if more lives are in jeopardy, I couldn’t care less about the season. Life is way more precious than this ball that we play in. If they cancel the season, as an athlete I would be upset, but we can’t do anything about it. If we play, I’m excited to play again and get back on the court. We had something special going on and I’d love to finish it.”…

“The world is bigger than just NBA fans. To our fans, it will be exciting to get the season back, to get it up and going and get something to watch on TV. But if this is the cost for safety and health, what we have to ask is, ‘Is it worth it? Is it worth putting yourself on the line, putting your family and kids on the line to make a couple more dollars?’ For me, personally, no.”

There is an eagerness on the part of all of us to start moving back to normalcy — or what will be a “new normal” — but experts warn too fast a push will lead to a second wave of the virus. And we’re not entirely on top of the first wave, yet.

Hill is pumping the breaks on that eagerness with a reminder of the larger reality.

If the NBA returns this season — and that remains a big “if” — it will be without fans in a “bubble” setting in Las Vegas or Orlando or wherever. The idea is simple: Bring all the players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, referees, broadcasters, etc. into one location, test everyone regularly to make sure they don’t have the virus, have everyone live/eat/play games inside this bubble and finish out the season and playoffs. The logistics and challenges make this idea anything but simple (China has tried to do it and twice had to push back the start of their basketball league). Still, it’s more likely than arenas full of fans watching games, followed by players on cross-country flights for the next game.

Adam Silver has said the health and safety of NBA players and staff will be the top priority in any plan. Most people around the league believe that’s what he will do. Hill wants to hold him to that standard.

The only question is, can that standard be met?

2020 PBT Awards: Sixth Man of the Year

Clippers Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams and Thunder guard Dennis Schroder
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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1.  Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

2.  Dennis Schroder, Thunder

3.  Derrick Rose, Pistons

A Clipper gets my vote, and for the first time in years, it’s not Lou Williams (who would be fourth on my ballot). Montrezl Harrell improved his game this year defensively and he continues to bring energy and grit off the bench that has made the Clippers’ second unit one of the most feared in the league. Schroder had a fantastic season, mostly when paired in a three-guard lineup with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Rose faded a little at the end and the Pistons didn’t win much, but he averaged 18.1 points a game and was the team’s best player for chunks of the season.

Dan Feldman

1. Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

2. Dennis Schroder, Thunder

3. Christian Wood, Pistons

After finishing a deserved third for this award last year, Montrezl Harrell improved his scoring skill and played stingier defense while maintaining his energetic style. That moved him past Clippers reserve teammate and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams. Harrell and Williams work well in tandem, but it seems Harrell has taken a little more ownership of their shared production.

Dennis Schroder scored more effectively than ever. He also diversified his all-around game to fit with the Thunder’s other point guards, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Schroder absolutely deserves credit for helping make that trio work.

Christian Wood narrowly topped Bucks guards George Hill and Donte DiVincenzo, who both did plenty to help replace Malcolm Brogdon. Wood made so many productive plays inside and out, especially as a starter after the Pistons traded Andre Drummond. That’s part of being a good reserve, stepping up when the starter is unavailable.

Keith Smith

1. Dennis Schroder, Thunder

2. Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

3. Lou Williams, Clippers

It seemed like this might be another year where the two Clippers could have split the award, but Dennis Schroder was just a bit better than both. In his second year coming off the Thunder bench, Schroder has put together the best season of his career. He’s averaging 19 points per game, while shooting 46.8% from the field overall and 38.1% from three, both career highs. And he’s also averaging 4.1 assists per game and 3.7 rebounds per game. To top it off, Schroder is regularly a part of the closing lineup for the surprising Thunder.

L.A.’s two bench stars could be mainstays on this ballot if they stay in reserve roles with the Clippers. Williams has hit Jamal Crawford-territory, where award could be named for him. He had another outstanding scoring season at 18.7 points per game, but what stood out was Williams’ career-best 5.7 assists per game. Harrell also continued to impress with 18.6 points on 58% shooting, to go along with 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers, Bucks

Mock NBA expansion draft
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Central:

Chicago Bulls

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Chicago keeps their young building blocks, as well as the veterans they acquired to support them. In the end, the Bulls hope that this group can finally get healthy and make a playoff push. That means protecting all of them.

Chandler Hutchison was the toughest decision among the unprotected players. He’s still on his rookie scale contract, but he hasn’t been healthy during his first two seasons. That means the Bulls prioritize a veteran or two over him. Kris Dunn is another tough player to leave unprotected, but as a free agent, there is no guarantee he’d be back anyway.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Cavaliers are in a spot to really clean up their cap sheet if either Kevin Love or Larry Nance Jr. are selected. That made the protection decisions pretty easy. Keep all the young guys and the guys on decent contracts. Andre Drummond doesn’t really fit either description there, but Cleveland did just trade for him.

Detroit Pistons

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: This one has some gamesmanship involved. Because the Pistons have five free agents, they only need to leave the minimum of one player unprotected. It’s that one player that makes the eight protected players easy decisions. Sure, there are young guys in that group Detroit wants to keep. But a handful are players the Pistons wouldn’t lose sleep over seeing get drafted.

On the flip side, by leaving only Blake Griffin unprotected, Detroit opens the possibility of getting that albatross salary off their books. The Pistons don’t have any extra first-round picks, but could be open to moving one of their own to entice and expansion team to take on the remaining $77.8 million in salary over the next two seasons.

Indiana Pacers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Pacers protection decisions were fairly easy. Every player they are protecting is a key rotation player or a recent draftee.

It was a little difficult to leave Jeremy Lamb and T.J. McConnell unprotected, but Lamb is coming off a major injury. An expansion team may not want to deal with that. While McConnell has been good for Indiana, he’s a little expendable with Aaron Holiday on the roster.

Milwaukee Bucks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Bucks deep roster works against them a little bit here. Seven of the protected players were fairly easy decisions. The only one that was tricky was Wesley Matthews. He’s a veteran with a player option, but Milwaukee isn’t taking chances with one of their starters.

On the unprotected front, it came down to Matthews vs D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown. Ultimately, neither young player has cracked the rotation on a regular basis. That makes it a little more palatable to leave them exposed in the expansion draft.

Three Things to Know: If NBA locker rooms are cleared for coronavirus, are arenas next?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) If NBA locker rooms are cleared for coronavirus, are arenas next? Everyone is trying to find a balance when it comes to Coronavirus/COVID-19 precautions… well, not everyone. We all know and see the panicked people raiding your local COSTCO because they envision this is the first step in the zombie apocalypse, or whatever.

The NBA doesn’t want to be the business equivalent of the hysterical surburbanite stocking up on toilet paper, bottled water, Purell, Lysol wipes, surgical masks, and more toilet paper (for some reason) as they prepare for the pandemic end times YouTube conspiracy-theory nuts have convinced them is coming.

The league doesn’t want to be whistling past the graveyard, either.

Monday the NBA — along with the NHL, MLB, and MLS — announced they were closing locker rooms to the media before and after games for the time being. The league has said this is a temporary step. “After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice.”

Following that logic to its conclusion… it’s a health concern to have 20 or so extra people around a locker room for 45 minutes before a game, but it’s still okay to pack 20,000 people in a building for a few hours to watch a sporting event?

I’m not suggesting the NBA should start playing games in empty buildings, as has happened in Italian soccer (and elsewhere). The opposite, actually. I think that would be a dramatic overreaction. The CDC has said this should be a community-by-community decision. The canceling of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells — a big part of the tennis tour — makes some sense, that is an international event that descends upon a community where people go to retire (nearly 2/3 of the Indian Wells population is 65 or older, the people most at risk to the disease). I’ve been to that event multiple times, let me politely say the crowd there skews much older than your average sporting event.

NBA games do not skew older, and the cities where NBA games are played have seen some cases but not the kind of outbreaks that have hit places such as the Seattle area. We are not at the “close the arenas” place yet.

However, it feels like we are closer to that than people realize.

Of course, the league is going to be quicker to close locker rooms (the media does not make the teams money directly) compared to keeping out fans (who do generate income for the teams when they walk through the door), but they have started down the road to get there. The NBA is consulting with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other experts on the course of action. Still, as the number of cases inevitably grows in urban centers — where teams are located — the NBA and its franchises will have to make some tough choices.

Can you imagine NBA games being played in empty arenas? It’s happened during major East Coast weather events before. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer can envision it.

NBA teams had to submit plans to the league today on steps to limit player/fan exposure at games, and for potential next steps. The conference call between the league and teams comes on Wednesday. After that, we should have some clarity, as much as anyone does with this disease right now.

2) Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic were putting up highlight plays in win over the shorthanded Bucks. Milwaukee, on the second night of a back-to-back (and third road game in four nights), sat just about everyone you can name on that roster Monday night: Giannis Antetokounmpo (sprained knee), Eric Bledsoe (knee), George Hill (leg), Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Donte DiVincenzo were all out.

The Bucks deserve credit for keeping it close, but the Nuggets got the 109-95 win. What was impressive for Denver wasn’t just the win, it was the highlights.

Jamal Murray had a Dunk of the Year candidate — until the bad call against him.

There is no way that is an offensive foul. The Bucks’ D.J. Wilson was moving, not vertical, not in the restricted area, and Murray did not use his off arm to create space.

Nikola Jokic’s football passes have become a thing and he did it again on Monday night.

Here is Murray to Jarami Grant — and the officials let this one count.

It’s a good win for Denver as they try to chase down the Clippers for the two seed in the West and hold off the Jazz (who are now two games back).

3) Toronto beats Utah and Rudy Gobert is a frustrated man. There were a lot of things the Raptors did right visiting the Jazz on Monday night. One was getting Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka going, both of them had 28 points on the night.

Another thing Toronto did right was isolating Rudy Gobert when the Jazz had the ball. Gobert finished the night with six points on four shots, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley did a poor job of finding him in the flow of the offense.

Gobert wasn’t getting touches, then he got in a little tussle with OG Anuoby that somehow led to an ejection with less than a minute to go in the game (this is a soft ejection in my book).

Gobert was emotional and worked up after the game, saying in the future if he’s going to get ejected, he’s going to get his money’s worth (via ESPN).

“I don’t think it makes sense to me. But next time, I’ll do justice myself so the official can eject me for a reason,” Gobert told reporters…

Gobert said Anunoby “tried to elbow me in the face.”

“And the guy that’s getting paid to protect the other players didn’t do his job,” Gobert said, referring to the officials. “There was a little altercation, and we both got ejected when I didn’t do anything back, pretty much, which I don’t understand.”

Not sure I blame him.

Utah had righted the ship and won five in a row before this loss. They need all the wins they can get down the stretch, they sit as the Four seed in the West, now two games back of Denver for the three seed, but also just one game ahead of Oklahoma City and falling back to the five seed where they would start the playoffs on the road.