Joel Embiid

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After four months off, first NBA teams practice in restart bubble

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Nikola Vucevic had to raise his voice a bit to answer a question. He had just walked off the court after the first Orlando Magic practice of the restart, and some of his teammates remained on the floor while engaged in a loud and enthusiastic shooting contest.

After four months, basketball was truly back.

Full-scale practices inside the NBA bubble at the Disney complex started Thursday, with the Magic — the first team to get into the campus earlier this week — becoming the first team formally back on the floor. By the close of business Thursday, all 22 teams participating in the restart were to be checked into their hotel and beginning their isolation from the rest of the world for what will be several weeks at least. And by Saturday, all teams should have practiced at least once.

“It’s great to be back after four months,” Vucevic said. “We all missed it.”

The last eight teams were coming in Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers among them. Lakers forward LeBron James lamented saying farewell to his family, and 76ers forward Joel Embiid — who raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he said he was “not a big fan of the idea” of restarting the season in a bubble — showed up for his team’s flight in what appeared to be a full hazmat suit.

“Just left the crib to head to the bubble. … Hated to leave the (hashtag)JamesGang,” James posted on Twitter.

Another last-day arrival at the Disney campus was the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who boarded buses for the two-hour drive from Naples, Florida — they’ve been there for about two weeks, training at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers — for the trip to the bubble. The buses were specially wrapped for the occasion, with the Raptors’ logo and the words “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the sides.

Brooklyn, Utah, Washington and Phoenix all were down to practice Thursday, along with the Magic. Denver was originally scheduled to, then pushed back its opening session to Friday. By Saturday, practices will be constant — 22 teams working out at various times in a window spanning 13 1/2 hours and spread out across seven different facilities.

Exhibition games begin July 22. Games restart again for real on July 30.

“It just felt good to be back on the floor,” said Brooklyn interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson less than a week before the March 11 suspension of the season because of the coronavirus. “I think that was the most exciting thing. We got a little conditioning underneath us. Didn’t go too hard after the quarantine, wanted to get guys to just run up and down a little bit and feel the ball again.”

Teams, for the most part, had to wait two days after arriving before they could get on the practice floor.

Many players have passed the time with video games; Miami center Meyers Leonard, with the Heat not practicing for the first time until Friday, has been giving fans glimpses of everything from his gaming setup to his room service order for his first dinner at Disney — replete with lobster bisque, a burger, chicken strips and some Coors Light to wash it all down.

The food has been a big talking point so far, especially after a handful of players turned to social media to share what got portrayed as less-than-superb meals during the brief quarantine period.

“For the most part, everything has been pretty good in my opinion,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “They’ve done a good job taking care of us and making sure to accommodate us in every area as much as possible.”

Learning the campus has been another key for the first few days, and that process likely will continue for a while since teams will be using all sorts of different facilities while getting back into the practice routine.

“We have to make the best out of it,” Vucevic said. “You know, this is our job. We’re going to try to make the best out of it. I really think the NBA did the best they could to know make this as good as they can for us. And once we start playing, you’re not going to be thinking about the little things.”

Joel Embiid fully suited, masked, and gloved for 76ers flight (video)

76ers star Joel Embiid wearing mask
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76ers star Joel Embiid said of the NBA bubble at Disney World, “I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.”

I don’t understand that comment. If it won’t be safe enough, why go?

But however exactly he feels, Embiid looks the part of someone who’d say that.

NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Embiid is listed at 7 foot, 280 pounds. Where did he get a suit so large?

If he desires protection from contracting and spreading coronavirus, the mask is great. If the noted jokester desires laughs, the suit is delivering.

This is definitely better than Rudy Gobert‘s attempt at coronavirus humor.

Joel Embiid on NBA bubble: ‘I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough’

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76ers guard Shake Milton said, “I don’t really think we should be playing.” He’ll also presumably play for Philadelphia in the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

That’s not as hypocritical as it sounds at first. Milton is concerned about basketball overshadowing the current movement for racial justice (a concern also voiced by Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard). But players collectively decided to continue the season. NBA games will proceed, with or without Milton. At that point, his desire for collective action was eliminated. He had to make a personal choice and decided to play.

His 76ers teammate, Joel Embiid, has a much more confusing stance.

Embiid, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

I hated the idea,” Embiid said. “I feel like with everything that has been going on, it’s unfortunate what’s been going on in the world. Obviously people look at it in a different way. There might be some other reasons behind everything going on. To me, that part never mattered. To me, all I want is to stay healthy and stay safe, keep the people around me safe. I want to make sure I’m able to live for a long time and not have any sort of consequences in the future from this if I were to be in a situation where I was getting the virus.
Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the idea. But then again, I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m going to represent my city — that’s what I’ve always done — my family, my teammates. The mindset doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter the fact that I don’t like that idea and I still don’t believe in it. I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.”

“Because I know I’m going to do the right things, I know I don’t ever do anything, I only play video games, I’m always home — I don’t do anything. But then again, I don’t trust those other guys to do the same. But, like I said, I’ve gotta do my job.

I don’t understand this. If Embiid doesn’t think the bubble is “going to be safe enough,” why go?

Of course, the bubble won’t be perfectly safe. Nothing is perfectly safe, and many normal activities are more dangerous amid the coronavirus pandemic. Damian Lillard expressed similar distrust of other players follow the protocols.

But each player must make his own judgment about “safe enough.”

There are reasons to play – money (individually and collectively), a chance to win, representing those important to you. Those must be weighed against the risks. Embiid did that and seemingly decided to play.

Is he having second thoughts? Did he just not choose words carefully enough while discussing his very-legitimate concerns?

I’d like to hear more about what Embiid means.

Philadelphia’s Shake Milton: “I don’t really think we should be playing”

Shake Milton Philadelphia
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There are a lot of players with doubts about the NBA’s restart bubble. They’re going, in part because they understand the financial implications of not going, but there is far from universal enthusiasm for the NBA’s plan.

Put Philadelphia’s Shake Milton in that concerned group.

The Sixers’ two guard, expected to play a significant role in his team’s chances at the restart, expressed real concerns about the bubble in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. Courtesy NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I don’t really think we should be playing,” Milton said in a video conference call with reporters Tuesday, “but I think the NBA is doing all that they can to make the environment as safe as possible. My teammates want to play so we’re going to go down there and try to win…

“I think [the spread of the virus], and then also I feel like there’s a lot of other stuff going on,” Milton said. “There are issues going on right now in the world that are way bigger than a sport, way bigger than the game of basketball. I feel like we’re on the cusp of finally having people tune in and really try to listen and try to understand more about the things that are happening in our country. I feel like the moment is too big right now and I don’t want the game of basketball to overshadow it.”

Milton said he wanted to know more about how the league plans to highlight social justice and take concrete steps toward making a change.

Milton isn’t the only Sixers player saying he doesn’t like the restart plan, here is what Joel Embiid said on his call with reporters:

“Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the idea. But then again, I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m going to represent my city — that’s what I’ve always done — my family, my teammates. The mindset doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter the fact that I don’t like that idea and I still don’t believe in it. I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.”

Even with all those concerns, Milton and Embiid are headed to Orlando with teammates.

Milton is going to be asked to play a big role — possibly starting in place of Al Horford — and bring much-needed shooting and floor spacing to the roster. Philadelphia starts the seeding games July 30 as the six seed but is looking to move up in a tight middle of the East. They are a dark horse threat at the restart — with Embiid, a healthy Ben Simmons, and an elite defense — but they need to find a steady offense while defending well, a combo that eluded them earlier this season.

Ben Simmons: ‘I’m feeling better than I was at the start of the season’

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Ben Simmons’ back pain threw his postseason status into uncertainty had the NBA season reached its natural conclusion.

Check out Simmons these days on Instagram.

He’s muscular, spry — and throwing down dunks without a wince on his face. The All-Star guard who watched the Philadelphia 76ers from the bench during the final days in March is now healthy, confident and ready to dominate.

“I’m feeling better than I was at the start of the season,” Simmons said Thursday. “I’ve been working since I had the injury, working until now to be prepared for whatever happens and wherever we go. I’m feeling great and been rehabbing this whole time, so I’ve been feeling ready and I’m very comfortable.”

Simmons, the NBA’s leader in steals, had been quiet except for social media posts since the league shut down March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 23-year-old had missed eighth straight games and was receiving daily treatment for nerve issues in his lower back when the season stopped. Simmons said Thursday it was “hard to judge” his readiness for a postseason run in April and beyond. But the extended break gave Simmons — and banged-up All-Star teammate Joel Embiid — enough time to rest, rehab and regroup for when the NBA resumes July 30 at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida.

Simmons’ last game was Feb. 22, when he took such a hard fall in Milwaukee that he was left lying on his back, vomiting from the pain.

He is good to go now and can help the Sixers resume their push to win their first NBA title since 1983.

“I’ll be ready to go,” he said. “I’m feeling good. I put on a lot more muscle. I’m ready to go and get rolling.”

Simmons averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists in 54 games. Entering a season with NBA championship expectations, the Sixers (39-26) were a disappointing sixth in the Eastern Conference and coach Brett Brown’s job status was a hot topic in Philadelphia. Brown, whose contract runs through 2021-22, may have gained some more time to fix the Sixers because of the shutdown. The Sixers had a roster of mismatched parts, injuries and abysmal road record (10-24) that pushed them toward the brink of being a bust.

Philly needed the hiatus as much as any team in the league.

“We’ve beaten the best teams in the league,” Simmons said. “We’re a young, healthy team right now. We’re looking forward to get this opportunity and go all the way.”

And if the Sixers win it all, the title will be unlike any other in league history. They’ll spend three months living in a quasi-bubble at the Disney complex after an entire postseason is played without fans, with most if not all of that time away from friends and family.

“I trust in the NBA and those older vets like ’Bron, like CP3, who are ready to go down there,” Simmons said. “This is our job. I don’t have any problems with people who want to sit out. Everybody’s personal stuff is different. I want to get out there and play. I feel like it’s my responsibility to go down there and represent Philadelphia in the highest way possible. I think this is the right way to do it.”