Jayson Tatum

Jayson Tatum scores 34, Boston holds of Damian Lillard, Portland for win

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jayson Tatum scored 34 points, Jaylen Brown added 30 and the Boston Celtics built a big lead early before holding on for a 128-124 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

Tatum rebounded from a terrible performance in a loss to Milwaukee on Friday when he scored just five points on 2-of-18 shooting.

Damian Lillard had 30 points and 16 assists for Portland. Jusuf Nurkic added 30 points in his second official game back after breaking his leg in March 2019.

Boston led by as many as 24 in the second quarter, but Portland opened the fourth quarter with a 15-4 run, with three 3-pointers from Lillard and two from CJ McCollum, to put them on top 101-98.

Gary Trent Jr. hit a 3-pointer with less than 2 minutes to go before the Celtics used a 7-0 run to take a 125-119 lead with about 30 seconds left.

Carmelo Anthony got the Blazers within three with a 3-pointer and Gordon Hayward was called for a backcourt violation to give Portland the ball back. Lillard lost the ball and the Celtics were called for a foul to give Portland another possession with 6.8 seconds to go.

A layup by Nurkic cut the lead to one with 3.4 seconds left and Hayward added two free throws to push the lead to 127-124. Nurkic’s long inbounds pass bounced out of bounds to secure Boston’s victory.

The Celtics had a 10-point lead with less than a minute left in the third when Lillard was fouled as he banked in an off-balance 3-pointer and he made the free throw to get Portland within 92-86.

Kemba Walker finished the quarter with a basket for Boston to make it 94-86 entering the fourth.

Giannis Antetokounmpo got the call, 36 points, leads Bucks past Celtics

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo appeared on his way out of the game. Moments later, he was instead on his way to the foul line.

A replay overturned what would have been the NBA’s MVP sixth foul with 1:28 left and he made the most of his second chance, helping the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Boston Celtics 119-112 on Friday night.

Antetokounmpo had 36 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists in the Bucks’ first game in the restart. Milwaukee improved the NBA’s best record to 54-12 and moved within a victory of clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the second straight year.

It appeared the Bucks would have to do it without the Greek Freak when Marcus Smart slid in front of a driving Antetokounmpo as he scored in the lane. A charge was called but eventually overturned, with Smart saying the official explanation from referees was that he was too late.

“Quite frankly, I think we know all what that was all about. Giannis’ sixth foul and they didn’t want to get him out,” Smart said. “Let’s just call that spade a spade and that’s just what it is.”

The Bucks disagreed.

“I felt like he was moving on the last play but either way if it was a charge, if it was not a charge, I’m happy that we got the win and I’ll learn from the play,” Antetokounmpo said.

Antetokounmpo made the free throw to make it 110-107. Khris Middleton then knocked down a 3-pointer for a six-point advantage.

Middleton added 18 points for the Bucks, who played without Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton while they work on their conditioning after testing positive for the coronavirus. Marvin Williams sat out with a strained left groin.

Smart scored 23 points for the Celtics and Jaylen Brown had 22, but star forward Jayson Tatum had a nightmarish restart. He had five points on 2-for-18 shooting — though he actually only made one basket.

Kemba Walker scored 16 points but played just 19 minutes as the Celtics look to keep the All-Star guard healthy after he’s been battling a sore knee.

Milwaukee had lost its final three games before the season was suspended in March but came back looking like the team that otherwise overpowered opponents all season. The Bucks broke to a 17-2 lead and should have been pitching a shutout. The lone Boston basket came when Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews tipped in Walker’s missed 3-pointer. Tatum was given credit for the basket as the closest Celtics player.

“I thought we had a great mindset coming out in the first five minutes,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said.

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.

Bring on the games! Seven predictions for NBA restart

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Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go and the NBA is back! Finally.

The players from the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans will kneel around the Black Lives Matters phrase on the court then tip-off the restarted NBA season, maybe with Zion Williamson playing, maybe not. After that appetizer comes the main course, the Lakers vs. Clippers.

You’ve got questions about the return of the NBA season, and we’ve got answers. Or at least predictions. Here are Dan Feldman and my predictions for the restart of the NBA season.

1) WHAT TEAM MAKES A SURPRISING PLAYOFF RUN?

Kurt Helin: Give me the Oklahoma City Thunder. This was a team that was 33-13 from Dec. 1 on with a top-10 offense and defense, before the coronavirus sent the league into hibernation. Chris Paul has been arguably the most clutch player in the league this season, and the three-guard lineup with CP3, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schroder has been a problem for opponents. I think they advance to the second round, regardless of opponent, and they can push the Los Angeles teams. (Honorable mention to Dallas in this category.)

Dan Feldman: Nobody. I’m picking mostly chalk. But I like the Rockets as a dark horse. They have top talent in James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and supporting players like Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker fit so well. Houston’s small-ball system invites variance, which could lead to upsets.

2) WHAT TEAM IS THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE BUCKS IN THE EAST?

Kurt Helin: I like playoff teams that have versatility, so I will take the Boston Celtics. Their combination of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward — with Marcus Smart off the bench — makes them a matchup nightmare on offense and a switchable defense. With Kemba Walker at the point (if his left knee doesn’t hold him back) and Brad Stevens drawing up the plays, the Celtics just need good play out of the center position to be a real challenge for the Bucks. That said, they may need Milwaukee to stumble to beat them.

Dan Feldman: Raptors. The Raptors, Celtics, 76ers and Heat all have a chance. Philadelphia has the highest upside – a roster designed not only for the playoffs, but specifically to match up with Milwaukee. Still, I’ll take Toronto, which can also match up with the Bucks but has played at a much higher level throughout the season.

3) WHICH PLAYER NOT IN THE BUBBLE WILL BE THE BIGGEST BLOW TO THEIR TEAM?

Kurt Helin: Avery Bradley of the Lakers. So long as Los Angeles has LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they are title contenders (and Davis is expected to play in the opener after suffering an eye injury). But losing a versatile starting two guard hurts. There are matchups where Bradley may not have played extensive minutes, but against teams with elite wings (the Clippers or Rockets, for example), his defense, three-point shooting, and veteran presence would have helped. Throw in the loss of Rajon Rondo (thumb) and that’s 44 minutes a game of guard rotation that has to be filled.

Dan Feldman: Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic. Though better players will miss the rest of the season, they’re on lesser teams. Bogdanovic was superb for Utah before undergoing season-ending surgery. With him, the Jazz were a fringe championship contender. Without him, they’ll likely lose in the first round. The difference is especially stark considering Donovan Mitchell‘s and Rudy Gobert‘s rift. Winning cures most ills, and losing tends to exacerbate problems.

4) WHICH TEAM IS MOST LIKELY TO GO 0-8?

Kurt Helin: The Washington Wizards. No John Wall, no Bradley Beal, no Davis Bertans. Outside of that, how many Wizards players can you name? This is a 24-40 team without its two best players and questionable motivation to push and stay in the bubble. Don’t be surprised if things fall apart fast for Washington.

Dan Feldman: Suns. I project Phoenix to play at a higher level the rest of the season than the Nets, Wizards and Spurs. The Suns will probably beat Washington in their first seeding game and render this moot. But if not, they have a tough schedule that ends with teams (Thunder, 76ers, Mavericks) likely to be still competing for seeding position. Phoenix could also fall from playoff contention quickly, reducing motivation to compete.

5) WHICH TEAM GETS THE EIGHTH SEED IN THE WEST?

Kurt Helin: The Memphis Grizzlies. Two reasons for this. First, Ja Morant is really good at basketball. Second, the NBA gave advantages to the Grizzlies at the restart — advantages Memphis earned in the first 65 games playing its way into the eighth seed. They have a 3.5 game cushion, outside of a total collapse the Grizzlies will be in a two-game play-in series to make the playoffs. Then Memphis just needs to win one of those two games to advance. Portland and New Orleans have a shot, but Memphis is the favorite to get that spot.

Dan Feldman: Grizzlies. This is math more than confidence in Memphis, though both obviously factor. Up 3.5 games on the chasing pack, the Grizzlies are the most likely team in the race* to clinch a playoff spot in seeding games. The Grizzlies are the most likely team to be involved in a play-in. The Grizzlies are most likely to be in eighth place in a play-in, which would mean needing to win only once before the ninth-place team wins twice. The Trail Blazers and/or Pelicans might play at a higher level than Memphis the rest of the way, but the Grizzlies’ record advantage makes them the safe pick.

*The Mavericks haven’t technically clinched a playoff spot yet. But I don’t consider them in the race. They’re practically a lock.

6) WHO WILL BE THE MVP OF THE BUBBLE?

Kurt Helin: Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers. He showed last season for Toronto that, when healthy and focused, he can raise his game to the highest level of any current player and lead a good team around him to a ring. He is trying to replicate that formula with Los Angeles. Leonard is fully rested and ready to go, and a Clippers team around him that was knicked up is healthy as well. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo both have a real shot at earning this title as well.

Dan Feldman: Kawhi Leonard. Leonard, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are all fine choices. But how could Leonard not get the benefit of the doubt after last year’s championship run with the Raptors? Leonard absolutely can deliver in the biggest moments. He looks even better this season – getting closer to his peak lockdown defense and improving as a passer.

7) WHAT IS YOUR NBA FINALS MATCHUP? WHO WILL BE CROWNED CHAMPION?

Kurt Helin: I’ll take Leonard and his Clippers over the Bucks. If any of the Lakers, Bucks, or Clippers won the title it would not be a surprise — they are all incredibly close — but come the playoffs the teams that win have great versatility and strong play on the wings. That’s the Clippers. They can beat a team playing small or playing big, and the Leonard and Paul George pairing is the best wing combo in the league. The only question for the Clippers is getting everyone healthy and in Orlando, and building enough chemistry.

Dan Feldman: Clippers over Bucks. The Lakers are right in the mix, too. But the Clippers get the edge because their stars (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George) outshine Milwaukee’s (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton), and their depth/versatility bests the Lakers’ depth/versatility around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Kemba Walker back at Celitcs practice, will sit out first scrimmage

Kemba Walker practice
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
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The balky left knee that had Kemba Walker sit out 14 games this season and had Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens taking it slow with his point guard at the NBA’s Orlando restart was not an issue Thursday — Walker was back at practice.

That doesn’t mean he will play in the Celtics first scrimmage on Friday, but Walker said he felt good after going through a full practice Thursday.

Walker said he had no concerns for the rest of this restart about his knee, adding “it’s all about maintenance.” Stevens had previously suggested a possible minutes limit for Walker through the seeding games (Boston just needs to not give up 2.5 games to Miami and it maintains the three seed).

Walker averaged 21.2 points and 4.9 assists a game in Boston this season, but for the first time in years was playing as part of an ensemble with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward all able to go out and get buckets. Walker isn’t in Charlotte anymore where he was all the offense, now he has Tatum developing into a superstar around him. It’s what led Walker to tell his teammates this week this was a title team they just needed to show the world, something Enes Kanter relayed on his podcast (via NBC Sports Boston).

“Actually, we had a [team] meeting and, in the middle of the meeting, [Walker] stepped up and said, ‘Listen, man, we have something really special in this locker room. We are like brothers. So let’s just go out there, let’s compete, have fun, and win this championship. Let’s show the whole world that we can do it.’”

The Celtics with a healthy Walker are the biggest threat in the East to Milwaukee. They bring an athletic and switchable lineup (Walker, Tatum, Brown, Hayward, with Marcus Smart off the bench) that was top five in the league defensively and can score a variety of ways. There is a lot to like if the Celtics can get their rhythm back, if Tatum can keep up the All-NBA level of play he had the last month or so of the season, and if Walker’s knee is healthy.

Which is why him practicing on Thursday was such a good sign.