Paul George

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Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Clippers guard Landry Shamet tests positive for coronavirus

Landry Shamet coronavirus
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Clippers’ guard Landry Shamet just a few days ago talking to the media: “There’s no option with no risk at this point.”

Saturday we learned that Shamet has tested positive for the coronavirus. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

This comes a couple of days after a positive test for one member of the Clippers traveling party caused the team to shut down its training facility (that may have been Shamet, it may not have been, the Clippers are not saying).

Shamet has to go through a 14-day quarantine and two negative tests 24 hours apart before he can join his teammates in Orlando, which he still plans to do. If there are no setbacks, he will be in Orlando and cleared well before the Clippers take on the Lakers on opening night.

The second-year shooting guard is an important role player for the Clippers, scoring 9.7 points per game but shooting 39.2% from three — he is critical to their floor spacing in certain lineups. He is exactly the kind of player that will need to have a couple of big playoff games — when defenses collapse on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — if Los Angeles is going to be a threat to win it all. As they believe they are.

Lou Williams asks can jerseys say ‘Black Lives Matter?’ What about court?

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Tune into an English Premier League game this weekend and you will see the kits/jerseys say “Black Lives Matter” across the back, where the players’ name traditionally would be. Also, all the players on both teams take a knee before kick-off. It has been a fantastic tribute to the cause from across the ocean.

Could NBA jerseys have “Black Lives Matter” on them somewhere when play resumes in Orlando next month? What about having BLM on the court somewhere?

Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams asked those questions when he appeared on CoStar Friday, in response to a question about what NBA players will do to keep social justice causes it in the spotlight. Williams sounded like a guy who thought going to Orlando would prove a distraction from more important issues (hat tip Los Angeles Times).

“We’re trying to find that balance where if we do suit up we’re having conversations behind closed doors. If we do suit up, how much of this platform can we really use? Can we get a ‘Black Lives Matter’ patch on our jerseys? Can our jerseys say ‘Black Lives Matter’? Can the court say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ so we can use that platform to the best of our abilities? So it’s just hard to call, bro. it’s honestly, it’s hard to call. I’m 50-50 right now, to be honest with you…

“I think for us, the only benefit of us not playing is to keep the focus on the fight. And with that being said, this is in six weeks, so we don’t know what it looks like in six weeks. In six weeks the world may need some healing, they may need us to be on the floor. But if more Black kids or more Black adults or any adults that’s dealing with police brutality are getting killed and we’re still outraged, I don’t know if it’s in our best interests to suit up because it looks like we don’t care. You know what I mean? It’s just a fine balance we’re trying to create.”

Adam Silver and the NBA are negotiating with players’ union on exactly what a return will look like and part of that is how the league and players can use that platform to promote the social justice cause that matters so much to the players.

Williams, just like every other player in the league, has an intensely personal decision coming up that has to balance not just BLM and social justice issues, but also family, health risks, and the serious financial risks the players make by choosing not to play. The answer is not the same for everyone, and obviously Williams has not decided.

If he didn’t come to Orlando it would be a blow to the Clippers and their depth. One of the things that makes the team a title threat is that beyond Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (now both healthy and rested) is they roll out serious depth and versatility, including bringing Williams and Montrezl Harrell off the bench. If Williams chooses to stay home, it’s one fewer weapon Doc Rivers has to use when needed.

And Rivers would be the first to say that is fine, that Williams has to do what he sees as right.

What players chose not to go to Orlando could end up having a massive impact on who is a favorite once there.

Trainer says Luka Doncic ‘not in the best shape,’ will be ready for games

Luka not in best shape
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Players’ workouts during the shut down have been a mixed bag. Stars such as James Harden and LeBron James have home gyms nicer than the ones you (and I) pay for and have been posting their workouts on Instagram. Other players had equipment sent home by teams with trainers leading online workouts that were the best players could manage, but not keeping players in game shape.

Luka Doncic appears to be in the latter category.

His trainer said Luka is “not in the best shape” but is working out and will be ready when games start in Orlando. The trainer, Jure Drakslar, spoke with RIA Novosti in Solvenia, and that was translated by Eurohoops.net.

“We have been working together for the last three weeks. Luka was previously in quarantine and trained individually at home,” he pointed out, “The last three weeks we have been working hard to prepare him for the resumption of the NBA season…

“Most players struggled to stay in shape. Doncic is no exception,” said Drasklar… “We understand his role in Dallas. Luka is improving every day. He puts in a lot of effort. He has completely dedicated himself to be ready…

“He is not in the best shape, which is normal. NBA games will not be played before the end of July, so there is enough time to help him recover and get ready,” he added, “However, he undoubtedly would be ready to play right now.”

Doncic’s conditioning improved considerably between his rookie and sophomore campaigns, one of the key reasons he made the leap from Rookie of the Year to a guy who will make an All-NBA team and draw some MVP votes this time around. That he slipped a little during the NBA’s forced hiatus is not a surprise — a lot of players have — nor an issue, as long as he puts in the work to get back.

Dallas enters Orlando as the seven seed in the West, only 1.5 games back of both six seed Houston and fifth seed Oklahoma City. The Mavericks moving up could help them avoid the Clippers in the first round, a matchup that would be particularly difficult for Dallas (which lacks good wing defenders, and the Clippers bring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the party).

Making that move up will require peak Doncic. Which means he’s got some conditioning to do.

Five winners in NBA’s 22-team restart plan

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Nothing is set until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA seems to have coalesced around this restart plan:

Twenty-two teams come to Orlando in mid-July — 13 from the West, nine from the East, all teams within six games of the playoffs when the league hit pause — and, after a two-and-a-half week quarantined training camp, play eight regular-season games each starting July 31. That will be followed by a two-game play-in matchup between the eight and nine seeds (if the ninth seed is within four games the team it’s chasing) with the lower seed needing to win both. From there, the league jumps to a traditional 16-team playoff (no 1-16 seeding) with seven games per round.

That plan — and the unconventional choice of 22 teams — has backing because it’s a compromise that is a win for a lot of people and groups. Who? Here are seven groups or people that come out as winners with this plan.

1) NBA Players

NBA players win not just because they get to go back to work — even if the working conditions are a bit unusual — but they got the regular season games they wanted. It was the players who arguably made the biggest push for regular-season games before the playoffs, and there were two reasons for it. First, going straight to the playoffs — even with a training camp — was asking for injuries. The only way to get in game shape is to play games, and the players wanted some meaningful games in front of the postseason.

The other reason is money. NBA players get paid by their teams for the regular season (for the playoffs they get bonuses paid by the league with the amount depending upon how far they advanced). The league is already withholding 25% of player paychecks anticipating canceled games, this plan at least replaces some of those games. There were 259 total games remaining when the NBA season was paused, this would see 88 of them played. There are no gate receipts for teams, this is not the same financially for owners, but some regular-season games being shown by local broadcasters ultimately helps players’ paychecks.

2) NBA Broadcasters

This is a win for ESPN/ABC and Turner Broadcasting (TNT) because they get games — and sports-starved fans will watch (expect insane ratings). Also the game’s biggest names — LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, etc. — will be taking part, and the stars are always the draw in the NBA.

Speaking of stars, those networks also get Zion Williamson — a massive draw in the 19 games he played — who will be part of at least the regular season, and maybe more. Plenty of people around the league think the whole idea of a play-in tournament gained favor with the league simply to get Williamson to Orlando. With this 22-team format, the league also picks up Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and Devin Booker to draw eyeballs.

On top of all that, there will be eight regular-season games per team, which can help local broadcasters and get some past the goal of 70 games (a target number in most NBA local broadcast contracts).

3) Pelicans and Trail Blazers

If play had not been suspended, Fivethirtyeight.com estimated a 60% chance the Pelicans would have made the playoffs and a 14% chance the Trail Blazers would have gotten in. Both teams were 3.5 games back of Memphis with 17 games to play, but the Grizzlies had one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league while the Pelicans had the easiest and the Trail Blazers had a soft closing stretch as well. Plus, New Orleans was coming together and playing better ball (5-5 over their last 10 with a +2.5 net rating) than either Memphis or Portland (both 4-6 with essentially flat net ratings).

Now New Orleans and Portland get to make their case, even if the schedule will not tilt to them as it did before. The league wanted Zion Williamson in the Orlando bubble to juice television ratings, so it came up with a way to get him there, but that plan helps a few teams. Portland returns with a healthy Jusuf Nurkic and that makes them a much more dangerous threat to make the playoffs. Sacramento gets the chance to break the longest playoff drought in the NBA.

4) LeBron James (and other stars on contenders)

LeBron only has so many shots at a title left and he didn’t want this one to go to waste — there’s good reason he’s been so vocal in pushing for a return to play (after an initial hesitation about games without fans). LeBron is 35, plus this Laker team had key players with injury histories — Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo — yet it stayed healthy and it came together as a team and played elite defense. This season came together for the Lakers, and while they will largely get the band back together for the 2020-21 season, there are no guarantees — LeBron needs to take his title shots while he can.

That same philosophy applies to other teams. The Clippers, with Leonard and Paul George, were finally healthy and coming together, who knows if they can stay that healthy for another season. The Bucks need to prove to Giannis Antetokounmpo they are contenders so he doesn’t balk when they offer him a supermax contract this summer (although the financial situation with the league could cause that anyway, even if he doesn’t want to leave Milwaukee). James Harden knows he only has so many chances, and on down the list.

5) Adam Silver

Watch the attempts at a restart in Major League Baseball and other sports, and the acrimony between players and the commissioner/ownership becomes the story. It speaks to what an amazing job Silver did building consensus. This wasn’t something that just started when play was suspended, Silver has involved players in the decision-making process going back to the Donald Sterling removal, and he was more collaborative in getting a new Collective Bargaining Agreement past than any commissioner in recent memory. Silver also has been a consensus builder with the owners, and he has involved GMs and team presidents in calls.

All of it built up a lot of political capital and trust, so when Silver had to make the call not everyone was going to like — the 22-team return plan is far from universally popular — he could still get everyone to buy-in. Everyone trusts him, and that is huge for a commissioner.

Honorable Mention Winners: The Philadelphia 76ers (they get a healthy Ben Simmons back, plus with enough wins in the regular season they can move up a spot and avoid Boston in the first round of the playoffs); Also the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns, both of whom were not making the playoffs (fivethirtyeight.com had the Wizards at 2% and the Suns at less than 1%) but now get the chance to play some more games and maybe find their way into the dance.