Rui Hachimura

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.

Wizards GM says team may aim to find slow-developing hidden gem in draft

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

In every draft, there is one guy who falls through to the teens, but a few years later ends up maxing out his talent in a way nobody predicted. In 2013, another down draft — as this year’s is expected to be — Anthony Bennett went No. 1 (Victor Oladipo went second, but the next best player in the top nine is Otto Porter) but the Bucks rolled the dice on a player named Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 15. That’s worked out pretty well.

Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard says his team will be looking for that guy, that Washington in a position to be patient and bring someone along slowly. Sheppard did a Twitter Q&A last week on the Wizards team account and said this about the draft (at tip Chase Hughes at NBC Sports Washington).

“I think when you look at our roster and you see eight players 23 or younger, we can probably take a swing at somebody and they’re not going to have to help us immediately next year. If that player is there, certainly we do that.”

The Wizards will head into the Draft Lottery (whenever it takes place) with the ninth-worst record in the league. However, with the return of John Wall in the backcourt with Bradley Beal, plus the hoped re-signing of Davis Bertans and the growth of Rui Hachimura, the Wizards expect to leap up into the playoffs next season.

There will not be a rookie who can help them right now, so why not pick and try to develop a player who will be more of a late bloomer, one who in three or four years other fan bases will ask “how did we miss that guy?”

That sounds good. The question becomes, assuming the Wizards find this player, do they have the coaching and development staff to bring him along? And who will be the coach in a couple of years? Still, this kind of long-term thinking is good for the Wizards.

The 2020 NBA Draft is scheduled for June 25, but teams are asking for it to be pushed back to August or later. That likely happens.

Two Clippers, two Suns left standing in NBA 2K Players Tournament

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The champion is coming out of the Pacific Division.

That may be true of which team will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy and have a parade through the streets when (or, maybe if) the NBA season and playoffs return.

It absolutely is true of the NBA 2K Players Tournament.

After Thursday night’s quarterfinal rounds we are down to four players: Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns.

The semi-finals and finals will take place Saturday on ESPN (3-7 p.m. ET on ESPN). Booker will face Harrell in one semi while the trash-talking Beverley will take on Ayton in the other. The winners will then square off.

In the first matchup on Thursday night, Rui Hachimura raced out to an early lead on Booker, but once the Suns’ guard, playing as the Mavericks, got Luka Doncic going it was all over. Booker won handily, 71-55.

Harrell, playing with Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers, led most of the way over Derrick Jones Jr. in the second game of the night, and while Jones made it close a couple of times, Harrell held on for the 71-66 win.

Then the games got tighter.

Ayton, playing as the Clippers, upset No. 2 seed Trae Young of the Hawks (playing as the Lakers). Ayton raced out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, held that through the half, but in the third quarter Young stormed back thanks to one LeBron James. It set up a dramatic, back-and-forth fourth quarter, with Ayton using Paul George to get the win.

In the nightcap, Andre Drummond (playing as the Bucks) took an early lead over Beverley, but in the fourth Beverley stormed back with the Sixers — and this was the most entertaining matchup of the night because Beverley would not stop trash talking.

We should all be rooting for Beverley to advance on Sunday just for the entertainment factor.

 

 

 

Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell headline televised NBA video-game tournament

Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA season isn’t returning any time soon.

So, the closest thing you’ll get to live basketball on television is a video-game tournament between NBA players. The bracket has been revealed.

The Boardroom:

1. Kevin Durant (Nets)

2. Trae Young (Hawks)

3. Hassan Whiteside (Trail Blazers)

4. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

5. Devin Booker (Suns)

6. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)

7. Zach LaVine (Bulls)

8. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

9. Domantas Sabonis (Pacers)

10. Deandre Ayton (Suns)

11. DeMarcus Cousins (previously Lakers)

12. Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

13. Rui Hachimura (Wizards)

14. Patrick Beverley (Clippers)

15. Harrison Barnes (Kings)

16. Derrick Jones Jr. (Heat)

I have questions:

  • How does Hassan Whiteside have the same rating as Donovan Mitchell and a higher rating Devin Booker?
  • Does being extremely online bode well for Kevin Durant?
  • Is Donovan Mitchell, who spent his coronavirus isolation playing video games, in the best game shape?
  • Will Zach LaVine redeem himself?
  • Will players use their own teams? If so, will Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton both use the Suns, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley both use the Clippers? If not, the most interesting aspect of this tournament – to non-esports aficionados – could be reading way too much into which teams players pick.

Without games, NBA players use social media to spread message of coronavirus safety

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Cleveland’s Kevin Love did his best to reassure a skittish and scared public.

Denver’s Jamal Murray sat at his piano and played theme songs.

Atlanta’s Trae Young shot balled-up socks into a trash can.

Miami’s Goran Dragic, in his native Slovenian, told people to stay inside.

This is the new NBA normal in a coronavirus-dominated world.

Even without games, the league is trying to engage and even encourage fans in these tough times.

So far, almost 20 current and former players have partnered with the NBA and WNBA for a new sort of public-service announcement as the world continues dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that is known to have struck about a quarter-million people worldwide, killed nearly 10,000 and has essentially shut down sports around the globe.

“We’re able to reach a number probably in the hundreds of millions, but as far as kids go, tens of millions of kids just by pressing send on an NBA PSA,” Love said. “So for me, it was considering that community aspect as well as, you know, thinking of young kids now being at home being homeschooled, at-risk youth being homeschooled … we have to reach them.”

Love’s PSA, released earlier this week, went for nearly three minutes and was a continuation of sorts of the conversation he’s been having publicly for some time about mental health. “Now more than ever, we have to practice compassion. … We need more of that,” Love said in his video.

Love went public two years ago about his struggles with depression and was one of the first NBA players to announce a donation to help arena employees who aren’t at work right now because of the shutdown. He gave $100,000 and has been raising money through his Kevin Love Fund to directly donate to mental health organizations working with high-risk children and teens who need help with their mental well-being.

Love didn’t hesitate before deciding whether to talk directly to fans.

“This is just incredibly anxiety-ridden, stressful, and I think the unknown is what really scares us,” Love said. “So, it’s completely normal to feel this way and what people are feeling is normal. And I think that just being isolated at your home, it’s tough to stay away from this 24-hour news cycle where all people are getting are things that will send them down a slippery slope and in a spiral because it just seems to be so negative.”

The league started these PSAs on March 13, two days after the NBA’s shutdown because of the virus went into effect. In less than a week across all platforms – NBA.com, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok – the videos collected more than 36 million views, or reaching, on average, 70 people every second.

“Just a reminder to make sure you guys wash your hands, avoid large crowds and if you might be sick, quarantine yourself,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said in his PSA. “This is only a virus that we can beat together.”

Toronto coach Nick Nurse was one of many who spoke about the need to listen to medical professionals and wash hands frequently; the official guideline is 20 seconds, Nurse suggested raising the bar to 24 seconds in a nod to the NBA shot clock.

“This is one time we don’t mind a shot clock violation,” Nurse said.

Other NBA players are making sure to keep their social-media contact with fans up in different ways. Phoenix’s Frank Kaminsky and New Orleans’ JJ Redick are among the players who have dropped podcasts this week, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James took his enormous following inside his home for a 45-minute live video Thursday night while he played cards with his family.

James talked about such things as the Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals when he led Miami to a season-saving road win at Boston – “if we lose, Pat Riley may break us all up,” he said, recalling what his mindset was that night – to his favorite wines and sneakers, to how he hopes to remain with the Lakers for the rest of his career.

“I might do this more often, man,” James said shortly before he ended the live broadcast. “Going to be quarantined for the next 12, 13 days.”

More PSAs are coming from the NBA and some will be geared toward the league’s international fan base. Slovenian star Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks is part of a PSA, as is Spanish legend Pau Gasol. Ricky Rubio of Spain, Danilo Gallinari of Italy, Rui Hachimura of Japan and Buddy Hield of the Bahamas have ones scheduled to be released soon.

Plus, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell – Utah Jazz All-Star teammates and the first two players in the NBA to have positive tests for COVID-19 – taped PSAs in the opening days of the initiative.

All the messages are different, but to Love, the theme is the same: The virus is affecting virtually everyone on the planet. And if NBA players talk about their angst, maybe fans won’t find their own angst to be so troubling.