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Ten things to watch for during the NBA restart

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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: Trail Blazers’ Trevor Ariza sitting out to spend time with son

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NBA players will arrive at Disney World between July 7-9. The second round of the playoffs are scheduled to begin Aug. 31. Only teams advancing that far will have family present in the bubble.

Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza deemed that setup unacceptable for him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Based on Ariza’s $12.2 million salary, this will cost Ariza $1,053,996 plus $131,749 for each play-in and playoff game Portland plays (up to a total of $1,844,492 in lost wages). However, that doesn’t account for the salary withholding all players face with league-wide revenue way down.

With just $1.8 million of his $12.8 million salary guaranteed next season, Ariza could become an unrestricted free agent at age 35 this offseason. He has proven to be a helpful glue guy on good teams.

Fair or not, this will increase concerns about Ariza’s commitment to losing teams. But Ariza can set his own priorities. Basketball isn’t everything. His son clearly matters significantly to him, as he is proving with this drastic and commendable step. Let teams considering signing Ariza decide what that means to them. That’s their issue, not Ariza’s.

For Portland, this a key loss. Since being acquired in January, Ariza had been starting at small forward, a position where the Trail Blazers have little depth. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins provide frontcourt depth, and Carmelo Anthony can slide up from power forward. But Ariza was suited for his role. Portland’s road to the playoffs just got tougher.

Portland’s Zach Collins cleared by doctors, will play in Orlando restart

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Zach Collins is back.

Portland is one of the most interesting teams heading down to Orlando. The Trail Blazers won 53 games and reached the conference finals a season ago, only to follow it up with a painful 29-37 campaign this season with a 27th ranked defense. Orlando is a chance a redemption — the Trail Blazers are just 3.5 games back of eighth-seeded Memphis heading into the eight seeding games, and the Trail Blazers have a percentage-points advantage over their West rivals that could matter.

Most importantly, Portland got healthy and look like the 53-win team from a season ago on paper. They got Jusuf Nurkic back as their center, a critical part for them on both ends of the court.

And they got a healthy Zach Collins along the front line, too. He has been medically cleared from the surgery to repair his separated shoulder, he told Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. He’s able to fully join in practices down in Orlando.

“When my doc came in and said my shoulder feels like a normal shoulder, that I was good to go, it was like a weight was lifted,” Collins said. “I tell people all the time that he whole rehab process isn’t difficult. It’s just very long and boring. The worst part is not being on the road with the team, not being around them every day, feeling disconnected. It’s weird. Odd. So, mentally, it’s a big struggle. I’m just super excited to be back and know that I can do everything again.”

And Portland’s chances?

“We’re healthy,” Collins said. “Well, we’re not fully healthy — we don’t have Rodney (Hood) — but we have Nurk and me and a lot of guys that had to step up and play more minutes than expected during the season. Put all that together, combined with guys coming back and the time off and everybody’s body being ready and recovered, and I think we have as good a shot as anyone.”

Even healthy, even with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland has a tough task to make the playoffs. They have to beat out New Orleans and Sacramento (and technically San Antonio and Phoenix, but those are much longer shots) to earn the nine seed, then beat Memphis in back-to-back games. Not impossible, but not easy either.

But with Collins and Nurkic back and the roster healthy, Portland has the best shot of anyone in the West of pulling it off.

Carmelo Anthony on playing in Orlando: ‘I’m still up in the air a little’

Carmelo Anthony playing in Orlando
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There have been a lot of questions and some pushback from a faction of NBA players about the league’s restart plan in Orlando. Some players question if starting now slows the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement (a league with many Black players gathering to entertain the masses at a place the team owners will not be). Numerous players just want more details about the league’s health and safety protocols.

‘Melo is in that second group. Carmelo Anthony questioned playing in Orlando while speaking to Ernie Johnson on #NBATogether.

“As far as actually playing and going back down into Orlando, I’m still up in the air a little bit because I really don’t, we don’t have all the details. We don’t know a lot of information, so until we have that, it’s hard to just commit to that 100%.”

Sources have told NBC Sports that is the sentiment most widely heard among players hesitant to go into the NBA’s bubble — they want to know details before they say they’re in.

Players want to know how long they would be in the bubble — anywhere from 35 days to three months — and they want details on the protocols once inside the bubble. That has not been released by the league yet. Players understandably want to know what they can and can’t do once on the Walt Disney World property, they want to know what life will be like on the campus/in the bubble. The league is preparing a reportedly 100-page outline to the restart that answers those questions, but it has yet to be sent to teams or players.

The league and players’ union have said players who do not want to go to Orlando can sit this one out without punishment — but they don’t get paid, either. That paycheck, ultimately, will likely bring all but a handful of players to Orlando.

Carmelo Anthony isn’t sure about playing in Orlando, but if he goes he may also find his role is smaller. Anthony started 50 games for the Trail Blazers this season, averaging 15.3 points a night and playing solid ball, but with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins both healthy, there is depth along the Portland front line now — and guys who will play better defense. Anthony will still be part of the rotation, but his role likely shifts. If he’s willing to accept it.

First, however, he wants his questions answered before Anthony commits to playing in Orlando.

NBA Championship odds: Lakers, Bucks favorites as NBA plans restart

NBA Championship odds
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It’s all about LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo when it comes to NBA Championship odds.

At least for the gambling public. With the return of the NBA set for July in a 22-team format, the NBA futures odds to win the title have gone up at sportsbooks. Not surprisingly, LeBron and the Lakers, and Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, are the betting favorites. Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers are close behind, with a considerable drop off after that.

Here are the current odds (with money won on a $100 bet):

TEAM CAESARS FAN DUAL
Los Angeles Lakers +200 +270
Milwaukee Bucks +275 +240
Los Angeles Clippers +325 +340
Houston Rockets +1500 +1200
Boston Celtics +1500 +2000
Toronto Raptors +1700 +2400
Denver Nuggets +2200 +2500
Miami Heat +4000 +2700
Philadelphia 76ers +2500 +2700
Utah Jazz +6000 +2900
Dallas Mavericks +3500 +3600
Brooklyn Nets +6000 +6000
Indiana Pacers +12500 +10000
Oklahoma City Thunder +6000 +10000
New Orleans Pelicans N/A +12000
Memphis Grizzlies +50000 +21000
Portland Trail Blazers +7500 +21000
San Antonio Spurs +100000 +21000
Orlando Magic +75000 +25000
Phoenix Suns +50000 +25000
Sacramento Kings +200000 +25000
Washington Wizards +100000 +25000

A few quick thoughts on these NBA Championship odds:

• Brooklyn is only at 60/1 odds because of Kevin Durant‘s possible return to the court — except that’s not happening. Even if he could, Kyrie Irving is not recovered from his March surgery yet, and no way KD is coming back without Irving.

• Along those same lines, John Wall is not returning for the Wizards this season.

• The best bet on the board? I would say the Clippers.

• If I had to bet who will end up with the eighth seed in the West, I would take Portland. New Orleans and Memphis both have a legitimate shot, but Portland gets Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins both back, and that was a 50+ win team with those two the season before.

• I’m basing my thoughts on what happened before March 11, and all of that feels somewhat irrelevant heading into this unprecedented situation.