George Hill

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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

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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.

Three Things to Know: Looking at odds to win MVP, Rookie of Year, more

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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) What are the odds? Examining the betting line for MVP, Rookie of the Year, more. With a little more than 20 games to go in the NBA season, the attention is shifting to the races for the NBA’s end-of-season awards…

Except some of them aren’t much of a race anymore. That includes MVP.

Let’s take a look at the current betting odds for the top races, with the odds coming via Draft Kings.

MVP
Giannis Antetokounmpo -670
Luka Doncic +800
LeBron James +900
James Harden +1200
Anthony Davis +5000
Nikola Jokic +5000
Kawhi Leonard +5000
Damian Lillard +5000

It’s Antetokounmpo and then everyone else in the odds, which reflects the attitude of voters I have spoken with. These odds also seem a little dated, the guy with the best chance to catch the Greek Freak right now — maybe the only guy — is LeBron (and he will need some luck, but he has the “carrying Kobe’s team” narrative). Doncic’s missed time due to injuries has knocked him down the board a little. Just a word of advice to people actually betting this: Don’t be tempted by the big potential payouts for Jokic or Davis, both have been good enough to make the top five, but if the bet is to win that’s not going to pay off.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Ja Morant -400
Zion Williamson +250
Kendrick Nunn +5000

This is a two man race, and it might not even be that. Yes, Zion Williamson is tearing up the league. Yes, Zion is the best player of this rookie class right now and (barring injury) will be the best in this class three years from now. Yes, we all love to watch him play.

But “availability is the best ability” and Zion can play, at most, 37 games (ultimately, he likely plays in a couple fewer than that). Morant — averaging 17.7 points and seven assists a game, leading a team expected to be one of the worst in the league to a potential playoff berth — can play in as many as 76 games, although that likely ends a few lower as well. If Morant plays 35 more games, he is the Rookie of the Year.

Matt Moore at the Action Network did a straw poll of 12 likely voters and only four said that maybe Zion could do something to catch Morant at this point. Much like when Joel Embiid didn’t win ROY because he only played in 31 games, Zion just missed too many games (and Morant has been very good).

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Anthony Davis -152
Giannis Antetokounmpo +275
Rudy Gobert +350
Brook Lopez +5000
Joel Embiid +5000

A month ago I might have said Rudy Gobert was well on his way to a three-peat, and he still might be, but the Jazz stumbling on defense of late has opened this race up. The Greek Freak and AD have legitimate chances to win it.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
Dennis Schroder +130
Lou Williams +175
Montrezl Harrell +200
Derrick Rose +1000

Another race that seems wide open, especially if the two Clippers players split the vote. That could open the door for Schroder, who has gained a lot of momentum as people realize it’s not just Chris Paul having an impressive season for the surprisingly good Thunder. There is a sentimentality behind Derrick Rose and his best season in a long time, but how bad the Timberwolves have been does not help his cause.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Brandon Ingram +150
Bam Adebayo +300
Jayson Tatum +450
Luka Doncic +500
Devonte’ Graham +1000

Graham was running away with this award early, but he has come back to earth and the race is now wide open. With everyone tuning in to see Zion, people are realizing how good Ingram has been this season. Boston’s surge may help Tatum, and both he and Adebayo surged to become All-Stars this season. Our own Dan Feldman has made the case for Doncic.

Not listed in the odds was Coach of the Year, but my sense talking to voters and people around the league is Toronto’s Nick Nurse has a narrow lead in what is a very crowded field.

2) Miami Heat defense holds Giannis Antetokounmpo to 13 points, Heat upset Bucks. Milwaukee entered Monday night having win six in a row and on pace to win 70+ games. They had lost twice in their last 20 games.

Miami just shut them down. Bam Adebayo had a fantastic defensive game, leading Miami’s ability to take away the Greek Freak’s favorite moves and make him uncomfortable. The sharpshooting Bucks also went ice cold from three for the night, shooting 7-of-34 (20.6 percent), meaning the Heat did not pay for their attention to Antetokounmpo.

Miami had its usual balanced attack. Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder each had 18 points, Goran Dragic 15, and Adebayo had 14 points and 13 boards to go with his stellar defense.

The most talked about sequence in this game came late. First, Miami’s Dragic went up for a shot knee first and caught George Hill right in the, er, groin. Hill was down for a bit. On the next trip down the court Antetokounmpo gave Goran a check from behind, just to balance the scales.

3) Knicks get physical with small-ball Rockets and pick up win. From the first day the Rockets went all-in on small ball the counter-reaction has been “just go big” and bully them. Utah tried to do that, but the Jazz are slumping, Rudy Gobert seemed off (or was thrown off by the style of play), and the red-hot Rockets handled the Jazz with little trouble.

The first team to use size to bully the Rockets? The Knicks.

In the first game under new team president Leon Rose, the Knicks were physical and took the Rockets out of their game, ultimately leading to a 125-123 New York win. That ended Houston’s six-game winning streak. RJ Barrett led the way wtih 27 points.

The Knicks got 16 points and 16 boards from Julius Randle.

James Harden had 35 points and eight assists but shot 3-of-13 from three. Russell Westbrook had 24 points and nine rebounds but missed a mid-range shot that could have sent the game to overtime.

It was a good win for the Knicks, the question is can other teams follow the same model for success against these Rockets?

Miami holds Giannis Antetokounmpo to season-low 13 points, beats Milwaukee

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MIAMI — The Miami Heat stand alone, the first team to beat the Milwaukee Bucks twice this season.

Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler each scored 18 points, Goran Dragic added 15 and the Heat beat the Bucks 105-89 on Wednesday night — moving to 2-0 against the NBA’s best team.

Bam Adebayo had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Heat, who improved to 39-22 and matched their win total from last season with 19 games remaining. Kendrick Nunn had 13 points and Kelly Olynyk added 11 for Miami.

“Collective effort,” Crowder said. “”All hands on deck.”

It was a season-low in points for the Bucks, set for the second straight day after Milwaukee managed only 93 in a win Sunday at Charlotte. The difference was from the 3-point line: Miami was 18 for 37, Milwaukee was 7 for 34.

Brook Lopez led the Bucks (52-9) with 21 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo matched a season-low with 13 points on 6 for 18 shooting, and grabbed 15 rebounds.

George Hill left with 4:33 remaining, after taking a knee to the midsection and remaining down for a couple minutes. He was in obvious distress as he took a seat near the Milwaukee bench and did not return.

Hill finished with 12 points in 24 minutes. The Bucks were down 15 when he departed and emptied the bench not long afterward, conceding the ending.

Khris Middleton also scored 12 and Donte DiVincenzo scored 11 for the Bucks.

Miami led by one at the half, then pushed the lead to 12 late in the third and took an 81-70 lead into the final 12 minutes — after Dragic beat the buzzer with a quarter-ending 3-pointer for the third consecutive game, this one as time expired. He also made a beat-the-clock 3 to end the first half against Brooklyn on Saturday and another with 2 seconds left in the half against Dallas on Friday.

And then came Miami’s kryptonite — having to hold a lead. But a team that blew big leads late in recent games against Atlanta, Cleveland and Minnesota had no trouble in the final stretch in this one.

Kyle Lowry tries to drive through George Hill’s legs but it doesn’t work (VIDEO)

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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Milwaukee’s George Hill, a physical 6’3″ defender, was up on Toronto’s Kyle Lowry out on the perimeter. Lowry, pinned, had no good options.

So, Lowry tried to go through Hill’s legs. Not dribble through and run around, Lowry tried to tunnel his way between Hill’s legs.

 

Lowry, at 6-foot even, is not going to pull that off. Maybe against Boban Marjanovic. Maybe.

At least Nick Nurse got a good laugh out of it. He needed it; the rest of the night didn’t go so well for Nurse, Lowry, and the Raptors.