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Ten things to watch for during the NBA restart

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The deals are done. The NBA is coming back. The season will resume on July 30 at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida.

Here are 10 things to know about the restarted season:

1) THE RACE FOR 8

There are six teams in the race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference — Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix. (Technically, Dallas is also in that race, though the Mavericks need only one win and one Memphis loss to clinch no worse than the No. 7 spot.)

There are seven games where those six teams will go head-to-head, including four featuring the Pelicans — who play Sacramento twice, Memphis once and San Antonio once. The other games: Sacramento vs. San Antonio, Memphis vs. San Antonio and Portland vs. Memphis.

Phoenix doesn’t play any of the other five teams in the race for eighth.

The Grizzlies start with a 3 1/2-game lead over Portland, New Orleans and Sacramento, along with a four-game edge on San Antonio. Unless the Grizzlies open up space on all four of those clubs, it seems likely that there will be a best-of-two play-in series for the final spot in the West playoffs and a probable first-round matchup with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The play-in games will take place if the ninth-place team in either conference is within four games of eighth when the seeding round ends.

In the East, it’s a bit simpler. No. 7 Brooklyn is six games ahead of Washington and No. 8 Orlando is 5-1/2 games clear of the Wizards in the race to clinch a berth and avoid a play-in series. None of those teams can move past the No. 7 spot on the East bracket.

2) MAGIC NUMBERS

Milwaukee needs a combination of two wins or Toronto losses to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East. The Lakers need a combination of three wins or Los Angeles Clippers losses to clinch the No. 1 spot out West.

Denver also has a mathematical chance at the No. 1 seed out West — but would need to go 8-0 and have the Lakers go 0-8 for that to happen.

Most of the races at Disney will be for seeding. Milwaukee cannot finish lower than No. 2 in the East and Toronto needs only one win to be assured of a top-four seed. The West can still see some shakeups, with four games separating second place from sixth place and only 2 1/2 games separating fourth place from seventh.

3) HEAT CHECK

Miami had a league-high eight games remaining against the eight teams that didn’t qualify for the Disney restart.

Now the Heat will have a fight on their hands just to hang onto the No. 4 spot in the East.

Miami plays Boston, Denver, Indiana twice, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Toronto and Phoenix in the seeding games. That schedule ranks harder than Indiana’s or Philadelphia’s — the Pacers and 76ers both will head to Disney two games behind the Heat in the East standings.

Orlando and the Lakers both saw seven games against the eight Disney-non-qualifiers canceled, tied for second-most in the league behind Miami. Memphis had the fewest such games lost, with just one — a matchup against New York.

4) HOME ON THE ROAD

All 22 teams will be staying at the Disney campus for the rest of their seasons. Yes, that includes the Orlando Magic — whose home arena is about 20 miles from Disney World.

The Magic simply see it as doing their part to make the restart happen.

“We appreciate the leadership of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, our longtime partner, Disney, and our local leaders in this unprecedented time,” Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “We look forward to providing assistance as needed in restarting the NBA season in Orlando, while using our collective platform to drive meaningful social impact.”

5) SPEAKING OF ROAD

Philadelphia was the NBA’s best home team this season, going 29-2 — on pace to be the second-best home record in a season in franchise history. The 1949-50 Syracuse Nationals were better, going 36-2 at the State Fair Coliseum in the franchise’s inaugural season.

Problem is, the 76ers won’t be playing in Philly again until next season.

Philadelphia went just 10-24 on the road in the regular season, the second-worst road mark of the 22 teams that will be playing at Disney. Only Washington (8-24) was worse.

If the 76ers are going to go deep in these playoffs, they’ll need to figure out how to win without the raucous Wells Fargo Center advantage.

6) THEY WILL BE MISSED

Milwaukee has the NBA’s best record, and one of the reasons the Bucks hold that mark right now is because of how good they were against the eight teams (Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, New York, Minnesota and Golden State) that didn’t qualify for the Disney restart.

The Bucks were 22-0 against those eight teams — one of three NBA teams to go unbeaten against that group. Oklahoma City was 15-0 and the Lakers were 12-0. Toronto and Boston were both 19-1 and Utah was 15-1.

Only one remaining team had a losing record against those eight clubs: San Antonio went 7-8.

7) LAKER BREAK

The schedule means that the Lakers won’t play a back-to-back-to-back after all.

The Lakers would have played home games on April 7, 8 and 9 against Golden State, Chicago and the Clippers — the last of those coming because a game that was scheduled to be played shortly after Kobe Bryant’s death was moved until later in the season.

8) HELLO, AGAIN

For 26 players on the rosters of the 22 teams, Disney is going to look familiar. They played there in college.

The Disney campus plays host to the Orlando Invitational over Thanksgiving, and some alumni of that event are headed back there now for NBA contests. Among them: Heat teammates Jimmy Butler (Marquette, 2009) and Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga, 2012), Portland’s Zach Collins (Gonzaga, 2016), Washington’s Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga, 2016), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (Texas A&M, 2010), Indiana’s Edmond Sumner (Xavier, 2015), Phoenix’s Kelly Oubre Jr. (Kansas, 2014) and Boston’s Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State, 2013).

And lest we forget, the Lopez brothers — Milwaukee teammates Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez — are huge Disney fans, and have made their affinity for the place very well-known in recent weeks.

9) NO 3’S RECORD

For the first time in eight seasons, the league record for total 3-pointers made won’t get broken.

It was on pace to be smashed.

NBA teams have combined for 23,560 3-pointers made so far this season, which is already the fourth-most of any season in league history. The league was on pace for 29,844 3-pointers, which is 1,889 more than the record of 27,955 set last season.

10) STATE OF BASKETBALL

Florida — the Sunshine State — will be the epicenter of basketball this summer.

While the NBA is headed to Disney, the WNBA season is also scheduled to begin next month and be headquartered in Bradenton, Florida. That’s about 100 miles from where the NBA will be playing.

The WNBA plan is for its players to be housed at the IMG Academy, with games to be played at the nearby Feld Entertainment Center.

Kyrie Irving rumored to suggest players start their own league

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UPDATE: This seemed from the start like a leak aimed at discrediting Irving, now comes the report he said no such thing.

Beleive who you want on this one.

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It worked so well for the XFL. And the USFL. And the World Football League. And WHA. And… we could go on for a long time here.

Kyrie Irving suggested players start their own league.

Irving has been at the forefront of a coalition challenging the NBA’s restart plan in Orlando — the timing and impact of it on the Black Lives Matter and social justice movements, among other concerns — and he promoted that on a larger conference call last Friday night. He also suggested Nets teammates skip the bubble and floated the idea of the players starting their own league, reports Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

First, the fact someone leaked this to Bondy speaks to the divide among players on the idea of a return, and the willingness of some to discredit Irving.

I doubt even Kyrie Irving thinks his idea to start a league is feasible, especially done right now on the fly. One can make the argument that NBA fans pay to see the players, so if the players just switched jerseys and formed their own league, fans would follow.

It’s not that simple, of course. It is more than just players, the NBA and its teams are established brands — many people are Lakers fans not LeBron James fans, people are Boston Celtics fans not Jayson Tatum fans, people are Miami Heat fans not Jimmy Butler fans, and that list goes on. Fans of those teams embrace a player when they come to the market, but they boo him when he leaves — just ask LeBron or Kevin Durant (or a host of other stars who switched teams).

Plus, the NBA has figured out how to put on a good entertainment product — it’s more than just the games, it’s an experience in the arena. Even just watching a game on TNT, fans hang out after to see what Shaq and Charles will say. The NBA has figured out how to monetize all of that, and while the owners get rich, the players do well for themselves also. Starting a new league would be starting from the ground up to build what the NBA already has (and in many cases, has mastered).

Irving is asking a lot of good questions about the restart of the NBA and the wisdom of it, the safety of it. The answers, however, are just not clean and simple. Much like the idea of players starting a league. It makes this a challenging issue.

 

Report: Knicks, Nets, Rockets all have interest in Tom Thibodeau as coach

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Tom Thibodeau wants to be back coaching in the NBA next season, and he may be.

There have been a lot of image-rehab articles with a theme of “Thibodeau is a good coach who got a bad rap in Minnesota” coming out of New York media recently. That doesn’t feel like a coincidence (and it’s also wrong to think Thibodeau was blameless in Minnesota).

Thibodeau’s decade-long friendship with new Knicks president Leon Rose has made him the frontrunner for that job. Now comes a report from Marc Berman of the New York Post it’s not just the Knicks who are considering giving Thibodeau another chance.

While his reputation took a hit with the failure in bringing Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and allegedly mishandling young talent, sources told The Post the Nets and Houston will have strong interest, too. Houston’s Mike D’Antoni will be a free agent.

It appears Thibodeau would have interest in all three jobs. But the Knicks would get first crack at their former assistant coach since they won’t be competing in any potential playoffs… According to sources, Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving each like and respect Thibodeau, who coached them as a Team USA assistant.

While D’Antoni still has a job in Houston, he is in the final year of his contract few around the league expect he will be brought back for another season. Houston will move on.

Thibodeau’s name comes up a lot with the Knicks.

Thibodeau was being booed by the home fans when introduced before every game at the end in Minnesota, and attendance was dropping. The Timberwolves brought in Thibodeau as coach and GM to develop and elevate a young core around an elite center in Karl-Anthony Towns. Thibodeau is a win-now coach who leans on veterans, so executive Thibodeau traded a chunk of that young core — Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and draft picks — to Chicago to bring in his old friend Jimmy Butler. It was a big bet by Thibodeau and it paid off at first when the Timberwolves made the playoffs. Then things fell apart as Butler had issues with Towns — and more so former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins — and soon Butler was forcing a trade and torpedoing the Timberwolves season.

The Knicks are trying to build a core of young players and a culture that can be a foundation for winning in the future. Rose and the New York front office need to ask themselves: Is Thibodeau the best coach to do that? He has developed players before, with Jimmy Butler at the top of his list, but his old-school style has rubbed other players the wrong way. Plus, Thibodeau is not exactly analytics friendly, and his style is to lean on veteran players more able to help the team win now.

Who Rose hires to coach the Knicks will give a clearer understanding of what direction he wants to go in building the team.

In Brooklyn, the buzz around the league is Durant and Irving want Tyronn Lue as head coach, he is considered a clear frontrunner. Thibodeau’s name does not regularly come up for that job when other sources around the league are asked about it.

If Thibodeau is coaching in the NBA next season, it will be in New York. However, the Knicks and other teams have put coaching hires on hold until some resolution to the rest of the NBA season is figured out.

Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon announces he is 100% healthy

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When Malcolm Brogdon tore his quadriceps muscle back in March, the question was would he be ready for the playoffs. Because that was back in the blissful days of ignorance when we thought the playoffs would start on schedule.

Now we don’t know when or if the playoffs will take place. What we do know from Brogdon himself is that he is healthy and ready to go.

With a healthy Brogdon and Victor Oladipowho was just starting to round into form when the shutdown happened — the Pacers become a difficult postseason out. If the league were to restart and jump straight to the playoffs (still an unknown), the Pacers would have a first-round series against Jimmy Butler and the Heat that would be interesting.

Brogdon, acquired from the Bucks in a sign-and-trade last summer, had to fill the role of ball handler and shot creator for the Pacers while Oladipo was out the first half of the season. He did that and kept his efficiency up enough, averaging 16.3 points and 7.1 assists a game, keeping the Pacers as a playoff team until they could get healthy.

Jimmy Butler sent basketball hoops to all his Heat teammates

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sIt’s been one of the under-discussed stories of this forced suspension of the NBA: Many players do not have baskets to shoot on. They haven’t needed one. In the city where they play they have 24-hour access to the team facilities, and if the player lives in another market they will have connections with high schools, colleges, or other spots. There’s always a place to get up shots.

Until there isn’t. In the case of the Miami Heat, only Goran Dragic had a basket at his house.

So Jimmy Butler sent all his Heat teammates baskets, reports Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald.

But Butler decided enough was enough and bought a basketball hoop for himself to work with at his home in the San Diego area. As first reported by the Miami Herald, the All-Star wing then had portable baskets sent to each Heat player and coach to make sure they had one, too, as they wait out the NBA hiatus…

The baskets from Lifetime, a company based in Utah that manufactures various products, were delivered to Heat players and coaches a few days ago. Even the players living in condominiums and two-way contract players living in a Miami hotel received them, with the option to have them then sent to their offseason homes.

“Two days ago I received a big box, I opened it and it was a basketball hoop from Jimmy,” Dragic said Sunday in an Instagram Live discussion with Heat television host Jason Jackson. “My first hoop [that I have] is for kids. So basically, it was not a real hoop for me. Yesterday [Saturday] I was putting together all these pieces and finally I made it. I already shot some shots to take advantage of that. Jimmy, thank you brother. I appreciate it.”

Butler also is donating some of the same baskets to youth centers around Miami, once children in the area are allowed to assemble and play at the centers again.

Hopefully, we get to find out if having those baskets and getting up shots helped the Heat players because the league started up again. There remains a lot of optimism and determination around the league to find a way to complete the season and have a playoffs in some form, but there also are no answers as to when, where, or exactly how yet.