Marcus Smart

NBA restart
Getty Images

Ten things to watch for during the NBA restart

Leave a comment

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.

Report: More NBA players have tested positive for coronavirus than reported so far

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Jazz center Rudy Gobert
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

At least 19 NBA players have reportedly tested positive for coronavirus:

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

I can tell you for a hundred percent fact: There are more players that have tested positive than have been reported or revealed.

To some degree, I understand players wanting to maintain their privacy – especially once they stopped interacting with masses of fans who’d benefit from being alerted.

But that’s generally not how the NBA works. Player injuries are announced, and we have repeatedly been told – as the NBA tries to resume its season – to treat coronavirus like an injury for players. The NBA’s push to draw revenue from gambling has been bolstered by promoting transparency, at least on paper. This violates that spirit.

It’s especially troubling as the league launches an ambitious plan for playing amid the pandemic. There are reasons to believe the plan is sound. There are reasons to believe the plan has shortcomings. But the NBA should be open with the underlying data.

As of mid-May, all the diagnosed players reportedly recovered in short order. Hopefully, the fact that other players have kept their diagnoses secret suggests they also recovered without complications.

Brad Stevens letter to Celtics players: ‘Every decent person is hurting’

Leave a comment

BOSTON — Celtics coach Brad Stevens believes the best way he can be helpful to his players right now is by listening to them.

Boston players including Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier have been among several NBA players to participate in recent protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis last month after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck as he begged for air.

Demonstrations have taken place in cities around the country in response to the incident, which was captured in a widely seen video that has mobilized protesters. A medical examiner ruled Monday that Floyd’s heart stopped as police restrained him and compressed his neck.

It all prompted Stevens to write a letter to his players over the weekend in which he expressed his support for them.

“I think the thing that I wanted them to know is that every decent person is hurting,” Stevens said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “Every decent person feels the pain of the African American community. But I also don’t want to pretend like I know the exact, distinct pain. So what I wanted them to know is that I’m with them.”

The Celtics were among several professional sports teams to issue statements in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, saying in part that it and other similar incidents “have left the entire Celtics organization struggling with grief and anger.”

The resulting national dialogue has reminded Stevens of the discussions he had with players prior to the 2016-17 season during the height of Colin Kaepernick’s protests when he took a knee during the national anthem prior to NFL games to protest police brutality. Stevens said those protests prompted players to share their own experiences with racial profiling and discrimination.

Brown, who grew up outside of Atlanta, drove 15 hours from Boston to

It’s the kind of action Steven has come to expect from the 23-year-old.

“I’m not surprised with him taking a leadership role,” Stevens said. “That’s who he is.”

Floyd’s death and the resulting demonstrations come at a time during which NBA leadership is trying to formulate a plan to possibly resume the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stevens said the proposals are promising, but that most talk about basketball has taken a backseat in recent days.

Several Celtics players did begin to take part in voluntary, individual workouts at the team’s practice facility Monday. The team is also having regular meetings via video conferencing.

But Stevens said they have mostly been focusing on the mental well-being of athletes since the start of the pandemic and that’s continued during the demonstrations.

Report: Celtics will ‘most likely’ offer Jayson Tatum a max contract after season

Jayson Tatum Orlando
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

This should not be a surprise. Also, it’s more definite than “most likely” — it’s going to happen.

Jayson Tatum is a cornerstone of the Celtics now and going forward: 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, an efficient 56.2 true shooting percentage, a shot creator, an athletic finisher at the rim, and a guy who shot 39.8 percent from three. Tatum was an All-Star in his third season and will draw third-team All-NBA votes (whenever those votes happen).

Tatum is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract after this season. Is he worth a full max contract? Yes, especially considering he is 22 and still improving by leaps each season.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter the Celtics are expected to offer Tatum the max (hat tip Bleacher Report).

“If Jayson Tatum is the superstar that they envisioned when they began this whole rebuilding process when they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for all of those draft picks hoping to land a player like this, we could see ‘Glory Days’ for the Celtics again. But it’s very much up in the air, and I’m gonna tell ya, they’re gonna have to pay him like it because after this season ends, he is going to get most likely a max contract. They’re going to bet that he becomes that player.”

It’s fair to argue that max contracts should be reserved for true alphas, true No. 1s and maybe a few No. 2 players on a team, and that Tatum has yet to prove he is one of those. Boston would be betting he becomes that player — but right now that looks like a good bet. More importantly, last summer the Celtics locked up Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on four-year contracts, sign Tatum and the Celtics have a core that will have them at or near the top of the East for years.

Exactly what a max contract will look like this coming off-season after the coronavirus hit to the league’s finances is another question, one nobody has an answer to right now. Under the old cap, it would have been $181 million over five years (and if he made All-NBA teams it could jump to $218 million), but those numbers don’t apply to the new reality. Even if Tatum signs the max offer this summer, he will make his $9.9 million next season then be paid whatever the max is for him starting in the 2021-22 season (and again, it’s impossible to say what the league’s finances will be at that point).

Pay the man his money.  Expect Boston to make the offer whenever the offseason arrives.

On one month anniversary of NBA shutdown we know little more than we did then

Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was one month ago today that Thunder trainer Donnie Strack, wearing a suit, raced up to the referees just moments before tip-off of Utah in Oklahoma City to tell them Jazz center Rudy Gobert had just tested positive for the coronavirus.

Soon after, the game was canceled. Games being played went on as scheduled, but that night the New Orleans game at Sacramento was called off because one of the referees had worked a Jazz game a couple of nights before.

That was the last day any of us saw NBA basketball live. The NBA was shut down.

One month later, we know little more than we did then.

“When we initially shut down, we were calling it a hiatus or a pause. There was no sense our country would be shut down. In some ways, I know less now than I did then…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said less than a week ago. “I’ve told my folks that we should just accept that for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions. That doesn’t mean on May 1st, we will be. It’s just, honestly, too early to project or predict where we will be in the next few weeks.”

That hasn’t changed.

Ten NBA players — including Gobert and Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell, plus stars such as Kevin Durant and Marcus Smart — tested positive for the disease. Fortunately, none were seriously ill. Multiple people on team staffs, including Knicks owner James Dolan, also tested positive.

Nationally, more than 18,500 people have died from the disease — the United States has passed Italy for the nation with most deaths due to COVID-19 — and nearly 500,000 people have tested positive. While there are models and projections — which show the stay-at-home and social distancing orders are working — nobody knows for sure when the peak of the disease in the United States will be.

Nobody knows when life will return to something resembling pre-coronavirus normal.

Which leaves the NBA stuck in limbo, along with all major sports.

The health and safety of the players remains paramount, but there is no money coming into the league at the gate right now and teams are taking a financial hit (like nearly every other business nationwide). There have been team staff layoffs and salary reductions (with more to come). While that pain has yet to hit players with cuts in pay, that is coming. All of that will add pressure to Adam Silver to get the league playing again.

NBA staff — working from home, along with representatives of the players union — are trying to map out scenarios to return to play and find a way to crown a champion for this season.

The most likely way that happens is a “bubble” — bring all the players, coaches, training staffs, equipment managers, referees, plus broadcast crews and more — to one city, essentially quarantine them there creating a safe environment. Then games could be played, without fans, and televised. There might be some regular season games, although that seems like a long shot, and then a condensed playoff format.

This plan brings a lot of challenges. They have tried to do it in China and twice that basketball league had to push back its timeline.

Trainers who spoke to NBC Sports said they would like a month of a mini-training camp before games were played — needing time to ramp guys up and avoid injuries — but they don’t expect to get that. A scenario being bounced around would have two weeks of players in the bubble being able to work out individually (one player, one trainer, one half of the court) followed by two weeks of camp and some scrimmages. Then games.

That means telling NBA players they need to be isolated from their families and friends for more than a month to play these games. For teams advancing deep in even a shortened playoffs, it will be more than two months.

The NBA reportedly does not want to go deep into September with its playoffs, but working backward from that the league would need to create its “bubble” and get players in likely by about mid-June and playing in July.

For the NBA to pull this “bubble” off they need a venue — Las Vegas is the most-discussed destination — and they would need access to fast, accurate tests to detect the disease. The NBA and players union are looking at the testing availability, but finding tests that do not have a lot of false negatives has not been easy. Plus, the NBA does not want the perception it is pulling thousands of tests — and potentially the lab time to process them — away from hotspots of the disease that need them. As a nation, a lack of testing has hampered our ability to track and contain the virus; the NBA understands how that could look if tests are not widely and readily available.

There are other challenges with the bubble — keeping hotel staff, cooks, security, and everyone else around the bubble tested; players leaving the bubble to enjoy the distractions of Las Vegas or wherever — but the league is looking intently at this option.

Because it is their only option. Certainly for this season, maybe for the start of next season.

Who knows how long it will be before 18,000 people will feel safe and want to gather in an arena to watch LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo or anyone else play. Who knows when the kind of travel the traditional NBA schedule requires will be taking place. Unless the NBA wants to push the return of games until next December — something that comes with its own host of challenges, including NBA and MLB teams sharing regional broadcast networks — it’s tough to say what the start of next season will look like.

Right now, it’s tough to say what anything looks like.

Because one month since the NBA suspended its season, nobody knows what comes next. Nobody knows much more than we did a month ago.