Malcolm Brogdon

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Could healthy Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant, others change course of June NBA playoffs

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This June — *knocks on wood* — we will have NBA playoff basketball. That may be the optimistic scenario (and it may be without fans in the stands), but we here at the NBC NBA page are optimistic people. We want to believe.

If a June postseason comes together, those playoffs will look a lot different from what we would have seen in mid-April — and that was already shaping up as one of the most wide-open, interesting playoffs in a decade.

The whole point of “load management” has been to keep guys healthy for the playoffs. This is government-forced load-management.

“If you give these guys a break going into the playoffs and you build the anticipation of the NBA coming back, you’re giving the best players in the world an extra two, three, four weeks off,” Matt Barnes said on ESPN’s First Take a week ago, at the time underestimating the length of the break.

“The energy in the playoffs is going to be off the charts. It’s going to be the best playoffs we’ve seen because everyone is fully rested and fully healthy.”

Fully healthy could be the key — players who would have been out, or at least slowed, due to injury, could be back at 100 percent. Here is a look at how a late playoff could be changed by health.

• A fully loaded Brooklyn Nets team. At the top of the list of potential game-changers is Kevin Durant. Durant did not set foot on the court for the Nets this season as he recovered from his torn Achilles (suffered in the NBA Finals), but that recovery seems to be going well.

Durant would not rule out playing in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, which would have required him on a court starting early July at USA training camp. So if the NBA playoffs get pushed back to a June start and run into August, would Durant suddenly be able to jump in?

Probably not. Durant’s business partner and manager Rich Kleiman was on ESPN radio and said of a return, “Honestly, not very realistic from my standpoint and not even spoken about.” Maybe that’s Durant’s camp keeping expectations down, although it’s more likely the truth and KD will not play until whenever next season starts. It would be asking a lot to have Durant come back, have some of his first games be high-level playoff games, and then have a short turnaround until the next season starts.

Kyrie Irving is the other Brooklyn wild card. He had shoulder surgery in February that was going to end his season, but if he could come back for a playoff push, that might interest Durant. With Durant and Irving, the Nets would be the most dangerous seven seed we’ve ever seen.

But most likely, the Nets stay focused on next season and keep their superstars on the bench in June.

Ben Simmons returns to a fully healthy 76ers team. Things were falling apart for the 76ers when the season shut down, they had gone 5-5 since the All-Star break with a bottom 10 defense, and both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons had missed time with injuries.

Embiid had returned for the last game before the shutdown when he had 30 points and 14 boards against Detroit. However, a little more rest gets him fully healthy for a postseason run where he will have to play a lot of minutes.

Simmons is dealing with a pinched nerve in his back and the 76ers hoped they could get him back for the playoffs. Now, he could be back and at 100 percent for the playoffs, serving as a needed ball handler and shot creator for Philly.

Is that enough to fix their Island of Misfit Toys roster? Probably not. Brett Brown will pay the price for that. But a fully healthy 76ers team is long, athletic, veteran, and dangerous in a playoff matchup. If Simmons and Embiid are fully healthy, the 76ers are a real threat.

Malcolm Brogdon could return to the Pacers. Indiana, sitting currently as the five-seed in the East, was already a sneaky-dangerous team who could get to the second round and push a team like the Bucks. They become that much more dangerous with Brogdon back. He likely was out for the season with a torn left rectus femoris (connecting the hip and quad), but if he can return with his 16.3 points and 7.1 assists per game, the Pacers just became a much tougher out.

Add to that the hiatus brings more time for Victor Oladipo to find his legs and his shot, and suddenly Indiana looks a lot more threatening.

• Boston will have a fully healthy Jaylen Brown back. The Celtics would have had Brown back anyway for the postseason, but he had missed games due to a strained right hamstring, and those can linger. Maybe that would not have been an issue in the playoffs, but now there are no worries. With Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston may be the biggest threat to Milwaukee in the East.

• Orlando could get Jonathon Isaac back. Is this going to win the Magic a playoff series? No. But getting their breakout player back makes the Magic better — and more watchable. Isaac had been out due to a posterior lateral corner injury of his left knee as well as a bone bruise, and he was thought done for the season. Now, he could return. On offense he’s still a work in progress, but he averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests. Isaac is already a game-changer on the defensive end, where he is a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks, and 1.6 steals a game. He’s had the kind of season that would get him All-Defensive Team votes, getting that kind of player back helps.

• Memphis will have Justise Winslow, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke all back and healthy. Much like the note on Orlando above, the fact that these three players will be healthy is not going to lift the eight-seed Grizzlies past LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round. Not a chance. But for a young team looking to build for the future getting their young core — along with a healthy Ja Morant — playoff game experience is a big step forward for them. Plus, it makes that first-round series a little more interesting to watch.

• Portland could have big men Jusuf Nurkick and Zach Collins back, but no postseason to play them in. The Trail Blazers sit as the nine seed in the West, 3.5 games back of Memphis. It is highly unlikely they are going to get to play enough regular season games to catch them and become a genuinely dangerous first-round team (you think the Lakers want to see Damian Lillard in the first round?). But indulge the what-ifs here: What we learned about Portland this season is just how much Nurkic means to the team, now he would be back, with Zach Collins playing either next to him at the four and/or as a backup five, depending upon the situation. Portland would be a lot more dangerous, but we likely don’t get to see that.

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

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

NBA Power Rankings: Lakers, Clippers move up into top two spots

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We have a new No. 1, with their dominant weekend the Lakers move into the top spot, with the Clippers still right on their heels. Houston took a tumble after a rough patch of losses.

 
Lakers small icon 1. Lakers (49-14, Last Week No. 2). In a dominant weekend with two wins over the next two teams in these rankings, the Lakers played to the strengths that will make them tough to beat come the postseason. One is LeBron James’ IQ — his ability to read the game, hunt the mismatches, and dictate play to his liking is unparalleled. The other is the size of the Lakers’ stars — the 6’9” LeBron and the 6’10” Anthony Davis are hard to match up with because they are so big and skilled. A trap game loss to Brooklyn followed those big weekend wins.

 
Clippers small icon 2. Clippers (44-20, LW 4). Marcus Morris continues to struggle adapting to his new role and situation in Los Angeles, shooting just 38.6% on 9.5 shots a game, and 28.3% from three. He struggled against the Lakers on Sunday and the Clippers need him to be a scoring option when it gets to the second round of the playoffs and beyond. Doc Rivers also has to find a solution to the Lou Williams/Montrezl Harrell defensive issues at the end of games, the Lakers weren’t the first team to target Lou-Will in close games.

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (53-12, LW 1). Fortunately it doesn’t appear the Giannis Antetokounmpo’s knee injury is anything serious, he’s missed two games and likely will miss a few more as Milwaukee will wisely error on the side of caution. The Bucks are running away with the East and what matters is getting the Greek Freak, Eric Bledsoe (who has to be better in the playoffs than he was against the Lakers), Brook Lopez and everyone else healthy before the postseason starts.

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (46-18, LW 6). Norman Powell came back from injury and was on fire. In his last five games he has averaged 23.6 points per game on 54.7 percent shooting, while hitting 39.4 percent from three, helping carry the Raptors to a string of wins (four in a row). Then, as his season has gone, he sprained his ankle 1:35 into Monday’s game against Utah. Toronto just cannot get and stay healthy this season.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (43-21, LW 5). Reality hit Boston in the past week as they had Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward all missing time with injuries, plus Jayson Tatum’s shooting returned to human levels — they dropped 4-of-5 before a win Tuesday. Boston needs to get everyone, particularly Walker, right before the playoffs start, even if that means sacrificing some games. Boston’s win in Indiana Tuesday started a string of 7-of-9 on the road.

 
Heat small icon 6. Heat (41-23, LW 9). Winners of 5-of-6 with a soft schedule ahead this week, Miami seems on target to hold on to the four seed and be home for the first round of the playoffs (likely against Philly or Indy). To win either of those matchups they will need playoff Jimmy Butler, and he sat out the second half against Charlotte with a toe issue. Expect him to get a little time off down the stretch to make sure he is right when the playoffs tip-off.

 
Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (40-24, LW 10). Winners of 8-of-10, and the only two losses in that stretch are to the Bucks and Clippers. Oklahoma City is trying to track down Utah for the four seed and to have home court in the first round, and with two games against the Jazz on the schedule — including one Wednesday night — that looks like a doable goal for Chris Paul and company. It helps that they will get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back healthy for that game.

 
Nuggets small icon 8. Nuggets (43-21, LW 7). A couple of wins (against Charlotte and what was left of Milwaukee) do not cover up the fact Denver’s defense is 5.7 points per 100 possessions worse since the All-Star break. It forced coach Mike Malone to keep Michael Porter Jr. on the bench against Charlotte (he’s not yet much of a defender). The Nuggets need to find that defense fast with 7-of-8 on the road starting tonight in Dallas (and the one home game in that stretch is the Clippers).

 
Rockets small icon 9. Rockets (40-24, LW 3). Houston’s small-ball caught teams off guard at first, and the Rockets won 10-of-12 when they first committed to it. However, the tide turned and they lost four in a row before beating the struggling Timberwolves Tuesday night? It’s not been one simple problem, the Rockets have been bottom seven in the league on offense — James Harden can’t buy a three and Russell Westbrook isn’t finishing the same way — and defense in the last five games. Now they are at the Lakers and Trail Blazers before the schedule softens up into next week.

 
Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (39-27, LW 8). Dallas will make the playoffs, but it has a real motivation to string together some wins — they currently sit as the seven seed and that means the Clippers in the first round. If the Mavericks can make up two games and pass either the Rockets or Thunder then Dallas likely gets Denver in the first round, a much better matchup for them.

 
Pacers small icon 11. Pacers (39-26, LW 11). Indiana went 4-1 on a recent string of road games, but keeping both Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo healthy at the same time has proven a challenge. The pair has played just 10 games together this season and now Brogdon is week-to-week with a torn left rectus femoris (which connects the hip and quadricep). Indy needs to keep finding wins, injured or not, if they are going to hold off the 76ers for the five seed in the East.

 
Sixers small icon 12. 76ers (38-26, LW 12). With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons out, the 76ers defense has fallen apart, worst in the NBA over the last five games. That was expected, what wasn’t expected was Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson stepping up and getting Philly to play its best offense of the season over those same five games. Embiid should return in the next week to stabilize the 76ers defense, but the team is just hoping Simmons can return from the pinched nerve in his lower back before the playoffs.

 
Jazz small icon 13. Jazz (41-23, LW 13). Utah beat up on the East (at least until it ran into Toronto) and a five-game win streak moved them back up to the four seed in the West, but now the real tests come (starting with surging Oklahoma City Wednesday). Joe Ingles struggled at first when returned to the bench, but he has found a groove of late with Jordan Clarkson and the two of them have made Utah’s bench formidable again, which could help keep them in the top four and at home for the first round of the playoffs.

 
Magic small icon 14. Magic (30-35, LW 16). The Magic have won three in a row, right after losing three in a row. That inconsistency comes because the defense — that was the best thing about the Magic earlier in the season — is 25th in the league since the All-Star break. Orlando is just trying to outscore teams (they have the best offense in the league since the All-Star Game), and that always leads to inconsistent results. Orlando needs to string together some wins and get in front of Brooklyn to avoid the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

 
Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (32-33, LW 14). For Memphis, the playoffs have started — every game the rest of the way has meaning, especially Thursday night’s showdown with Portland (and the looming home-and-home with New Orleans in a week). The good news for Memphis is they may be more healthy for some of these games, they are expected to get Jaren Jackson Jr. (left knee soreness) and Justise Winslow (back soreness) back on the court. It’s going to be a little longer for Brandon Clarke, but he should return this season.

 
Nets small icon 16. Nets (30-34, LW 17). While there are tabloids full of speculation about Brooklyn off the court, they have rattled off three straight wins on it, including an upset of the Lakers on Tuesday. The Nets and Magic are in a “we don’t want to face the Bucks in the first round” race for the seven seed (not that Toronto or Boston would be a picnic). With Jacque Vaughn as coach, DeAndre Jordan (the good friend of Durant/Irving) is back in the starting lineup and Jarrett Allen is coming off the bench (in case you had any questions about who has the power on this team).

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (28-36, LW 15). The Pelicans have been one of the unluckiest teams in the NBA this season, they have the point differential of .500 team — they should be 32-32 — according to Cleaning the Glass’ calculations. Basketball reference suggests more like 30-34. Even with the worse of those records the Pelicans would be just 1.5 games out of the playoffs and look like more of a lock with their soft schedule the last month of the season, as it is fivethirtyeight.com gives them a 60% chance to catch and pass the Grizzlies for the eighth seed. To get to that soft part of the schedule, the Pelicans have to play a rough week of the hot Kings (another team in the playoff hunt), at the Jazz, then at the Clippers.

 
Kings small icon 18. Kings (28-36, LW 18). Quietly the hottest team in the chase for the eight seed, they have won 7-of-10 and that includes a big weekend win against Portland. Sacramento is digging itself out of a hole from its 12-22 start to the season, which makes one wonder if the combination of a new coach, a trip for a preseason game in India, and some new faces took an especially hard toll on them (it may not be, the Pacers did the same trip and started 22-12).

 
Blazers small icon 19. Trail Blazers (29-37, LW 19). Jusuf Nurkic is expected to make his return to the court Sunday against Houston — and they need him back for their playoff push. It’s less about the offense, although he provides some interior scoring, it’s on defense where he can protect the rim and be a big body inside that keeps teams from getting to the rim. Before that, Portland faces Memphis on Thursday night in what feels like a must-win game for the Blazers down the stretch.

 
Spurs small icon 20. Spurs (27-36, LW 20). Can the return of LaMarcus Aldridge to the rotation turn around the Spurs’ playoff push (he helped them get a win in his debut). San Antonio quietly keep hanging around the playoff chase in the West, it are just four games back of Memphis, but making up that ground when the Spurs play such poor defense is the reason fivethirtyeight.com gives them just a two percent chance of keeping their playoff streak alive.

 
Suns small icon 21. Suns (26-39, LW 22). Phoenix may be out of the playoff picture but it is not going quietly into that good night — Ricky Rubio racked up a triple-double in a win against the (shorthanded) Bucks, and Devon Booker is getting heavy minutes from coach Monty Williams. Phoenix has played fairly well on the road this season (13-17), which is good because eight of their next 10 games are away from home.

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (24-40, LW 21). Bradley Beal is lighting up the league and making a serious All-NBA push (no matter how bad the team around him is). In his last 10 games, Beal has averaged 37.5 points per night and is hitting 48.1% of his threes on nearly 11 attempts a game. Beal may have to keep putting up numbers in losses because the Wizards have the toughest remaining schedule in the East.

 
Hornets small icon 23. Hornets (22-42, LW 26). Charlotte has dropped four—of-five, but in a league without moral victories, these look a lot like moral victories. They pushed the Bucks, lost by one to the Spurs and two to the Nuggets, beat the Rockets, then went double OT with Atlanta. PJ Washington is a find and is going to be a key part of whatever is ultimately put together through this rebuild process in Charlotte.

 
Bulls small icon 24. Bulls (22-43, LW 24). The Bulls have started to get healthy with Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen all back, but take Zach LaVine out of the offense and it falls apart for the Bulls. At least now Coby White is finally starting, in the 10 games since the All-Star break he is averaging 24.7 points a game and shooting 40.7 percent from three.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (20-45, LW 25). Who will be the Knicks next head coach? Does Leon Rose want a player development and culture guy? Because if so that team just over the bridge let Kenny Atkinson go. Or, as expected, are the Knicks going to look hard at veteran guys like Mark Jackson or Tyronn Lue. The name I keep hearing from sources is Tom Thibodeau, although part of that is just people connecting the dots because Thibs and Rose are friends.

Pistons small icon 26. Pistons (20-45, LW 23). Detroit has dropped four in a row and 11-of-12, with the worst offense in the NBA during that stretch (on the sort of bright side, the defense is just outside the bottom 10). Still, this team has some players to watch down the stretch in Christian Wood and Sekou Doumbouya (Wood is playing for his next contract right now, and that’s always good motivation.

 
Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (19-46, LW 29). There will be no coaching search, Cleveland locked up J.B. Bickerstaff as their man with a multi-year contract. The Cavaliers are a respectable 5-6 since he took over mid-season, and more importantly Bickerstaff has a good relationship with both the young players on the team and the front office. This is a good hire for their long-term rebuilding plan (which is what they should be focused on).

 
28. Timberwolves (19-45, LW 28). Malik Beasley has been tearing it up for the Timberwolves. He was acquired as part of that massive four-team trade where Minnesota’s primary target was D’Angelo Russell, but Beasley is averaging 20.7 points per game and is shooting 42.6 percent from three. This has been the best stretch of basketball in his career, and it’s well timed right before he hits free agency this summer.

 
Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (20-46, LW 27). Cam Reddish has started to find his groove of late, in his last five games he has averaged 18.6 points per game and shot 56.7 percent from three. He scored 28 points against Washington’s “defense” last Friday night. There are flashes of bright spots around this team but everything good seems undone by their defense, that end of the floor has to be the focus this summer and heading into next season in Atlanta if they have playoff dreams.

 
Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (15-50 LW 30). The Warriors found another player who may be able to play a role for them next year in Mychal Mulder. A good shooter at the G-League level, he came to the Warriors on a 10-day contract and averaged 11 points a game, showing a little promise as a shooter and starting to find more of a comfort level as he is around longer. The Warriors signed him on a good multi-year contract and he could be a nice role player for them off the bench next season.

Bucks guard Sterling Brown posterizes Michael Porter Jr. (video)

Bucks guard Sterling Brown
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Sterling Brown fills a small role in the Bucks’ guard rotation that has replaced Malcolm Brogdon. There are only limited opportunities on such a good team.

But Brown has shown flashes that he’s capable of more.

The 25-year-old will be a free agent this summer. Though Milwaukee can make him restricted, maybe he’s someone a team with more playing time available could pry loose.

Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon week-to-week with torn quadriceps

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Indiana has some key rotation guys slowed by injury. Doug McDermott is out Sunday vs. Dallas due to a toe injury. T.J. Warren‘s lower leg injury, which had him out Friday night in Chicago, has him questionable for Sunday. Victor Oladipo will play but remains on a minutes restriction (about 25 a game).

This, however, is the injury that will really sting.

Malcolm Brogdon is now week-to-week with a torn quadriceps muscle, the team announced Saturday. The injury occurred during the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game at Milwaukee.

The good news for Brogdon is this can heal without surgery. Here’s what coach Nate McMillan had to say, via J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Brogdon, acquired from the Bucks in a sign-and-trade last summer, averages 16.3 points and 7.1 assists a game in what has been a strong season for him. Brogdon had to fill the role of ball handler and shot creator for the Pacers while Oladipo was out the first half of the season, and it is Brogdon’s play that has the Pacers as a playoff team.

Brogdon should be back for the playoffs, but first he needs a few weeks off to get his leg right.