Nets star Kevin Durant
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Frustrated Kevin Durant bounced in first round of NBA 2K players tournament

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It was one of the strategy questions coming into the NBA 2K players tournament broadcast on ESPN Friday night: When would players use the big-gun teams? The rules of the competition had players designate eight teams they might play as, but they could only use each team once. Teams such as the Bucks and Lakers are high value, but use them early to advance and it becomes hard to win it all.

Derrick Jones Jr. went to the big guns and played the Bucks in the first round against Kevin Durant, who picked the Clippers. Durant has complained in the past on Twitter that the transition defense in NBA 2K20 is terrible, and Jones showed exactly why on his way to an upset win.

Durant’s Clippers could not stop Giannis Antetokounmpo in transition. Although to be fair, the actual NBA has that same problem.

Durant’s other problem may simply have been he’s old at age 31, born in 1988.

What may have been most interesting through the night was the side banter between the players. For example, when Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton said he’s been lifting during the NBA’s coronavirus-forced suspension, the Bull’s Zach LaVine said he didn’t need to get any bigger. Durant said it had been a while since he touched a ball and Jones said he was shooting onto his roof to keep his shooting touch as best he can.

On the virtual court, Trae Young used the Bucks to thrash Kings forward Harrison Barnes 101-59, Ayton, using the Rockets, topped LaVine (Heat) 57-41, and Patrick Beverley (Bucks) beat Hassan Whiteside (Lakers) 84-54.

The first round of the tournament continues Sunday on ESPN2.

Will the NBA allow enough time with the restart of games to avoid injuries?

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It finally happens — the NBA returns. The coronavirus forced stoppage ends and the NBA races into action. As quickly as they can teams gather in a “bubble” in Las Vegas, players are on the court in games televised across the nation and streamed around the world. The NBA’s elite are back and thrown into a condensed playoff format…

Then in the first game a superstar player goes down with a torn ACL.

Just a few games later, another is sidelined with a strained quad. Another player suffers a torn meniscus. The injuries quickly start piling up.

It’s the scenario that is keeping NBA athletic trainers and staffs up at night.

“We call it spiking the workloads, you never want to go from zero to 100, that’s when you see a lot of injuries,” one team’s strength and training coach told NBC Sports, speaking on the condition of anonymity [his team did not want this discussed]. “You’re going to need a slow ramp-up. How slow it is going to be somewhat limited, with everyone wanting to get things going.”

As the NBA and its fans dream of returning to play, the league must find a balance. When the NBA restart happens, there will be a rush to move fast and get games going, but move too fast and it could lead to injuries. Guys need time to get back into game shape.

Any athlete at any level will tell you: working out in a gym is not game shape. For the NBA, the consequences of moving too fast could devastate some players and teams.

How long a runway into games will teams need before they can play?

“I think it’s going to take time… Realistically three weeks, four weeks would be ideal, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” one strength trainer said.

Other training staff polled seem to expect two-three weeks, with games of some form — maybe some regular season games, perhaps just exhibitions — as part of that. The league itself is not discussing publicly the return — there are too many variables in play to make predictions — but sources said a training camp is factored into the equation.

Just having the games is critical.

“Conditioning is a primary reason for pre-season exhibition games… live game speed simulation remains ideal,” said Javair Gillett, Director of Athletic Performance for the Houston Rockets.

Knowing they could return to work at any time, NBA players are trying to work out at home — and team strength and conditioning staffs are using new technology to help out with that. Everyone understands that whenever the suspension is lifted, things are going to move fast.

That short window has players from playoff-bound teams seeming a little more focused than those who are near the start of their off-season (and may not play again this season).

“As we’ve been preaching and saying around our team, amongst coach, we want to win the wait,” the Clippers’ Paul George said on the team’s Instagram feed. “When this thing gets back going, we want to be the team that’s in the best shape and ready to go.”

“Guys know that they won’t be able to use games to play themselves into shape,” Gillett said of the Rockets. “So if we continue the season, the hope and expectation is that we see guys returning with a higher level of fitness than the state they typically return in at the onset of a full season…

“We know where we’re at in the season, what’s on the line, what’s at stake, with that in mind our players are very motivated because there’s still that end goal in sight, to win a championship.”

Technology helps training staffs push their players in ways they couldn’t have years ago.

Gillet and the Rockets are among the franchises using Teambuildr, an app and website site where staff can plan, track, and demonstrate through videos how to do remote workouts. It allows the staffs to design and modify workouts for each player individually. In the NBA alone Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Minnesota, and Detroit use the site, as do teams in the NFL, NHL, and MLB.

“Technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, we’ve gotten to the point teams can present their programs online or through apps,” Gillett said, adding it makes it easier for players to follow along and stick with a program.

Other teams have gone different directions.

“The players had bikes and weights delivered to their homes,” Brad Stevens said of the Celtics. “We’ve had some voluntary strength and conditioning sessions.”

The Warriors’ players have been doing group Peleton classes.

One challenge is simply nobody knows what the timeline of a return will be.

“Like the rest of the country, they don’t know when they are going to go back to work,” Gillett said.

Another challenge has been the limited equipment some players have available to work out with in their home. Highly-paid players and ones that live in bigger homes in the market (often veterans with families) may have impressive workout facilities in their houses. Even among those players, having half-a-court to practice shooting is rare. Stephen Curry didn’t have one.

It’s even harder for younger players and guys living in apartments, they had very limited tools.

“Their homes aren’t equipped with a lot, so we tried to communicate with them on an individual basis and address individual needs as best we can,” Gillett said of the Rockets’ approach. “In the offseason we send guys home with a care package, a duffel bag of items we feel is necessary, that we know is going to be part of their program. I think in this case it’s no different, we’re trying to provide some things we know they may not have at their home.”

Even for the teams taking their suspension workouts seriously, nobody is going to be in game shape.

“It is very difficult to maintain basketball, NBA level conditioning, without playing games… the volume, the intensity, the stress levels all come into play and it’s very difficult to replicate,” the Rockets’ Gillett said. “Which is why we’re stressing [to players] you have to maintain a certain level of fitness so that when you are to return it’s not going to take a long time to get you back into basketball shape.”

There will need to be games when the league returns, which is one reason for the discussion of playing some regular season games upon the league’s return. Even if the long hiatus forces the NBA to jump almost directly to the playoffs, there will need to be some exhibition games to get guys ready.

“I feel no matter what guys are doing, unless they have a court in their house, or access to a court, they’re just not going to be ready physically to handle the stress that a player goes through during the game,” one trainer told NBC Sports. “Then you add to that it could be right into the playoffs, and that’s an added stress.”

And that added stress could lead to injuries the NBA desperately wants to avoid.

Chris Paul admits he appreciated Blake Griffin more after they split

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Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone…

Chris Paul paraphrasing Joni Mitchell is not where we expected to be on Friday, but here we are. CP3 went on the Up in Smoke Podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson — currently being done remotely from everyone’s home — and among the topics he talked former teammate Barnes about those “Lob City” Clippers.

Barnes called them one of the best teams never to win a title. Chemistry issues may have stood in the way of that ring (and some injuries), and Paul admitted he appreciated Blake Griffin and what that team had more after it all broke apart and Paul went to Houston.

“It’s seriously one of those things you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. I think about it at times. And me and Blake absolutely had our issues here and there, but I actually appreciated Blake probably a lot more after I left.”

Paul, also the elected head of the NBA’s players union, talked about the forced suspension of the league due to the coronavirus.

“In this situation, nobody knows. Like it’s crazy, I was talking to Adam [Silver] the other day…Shout out to Adam and the fact that he actually communicates with us and is trying to figure out what’s right. But, just there’s no answers right now. Everybody’s just basically gotta wait and see how this thing plays out. Obviously, at the end of the day, we all miss hooping…

“I don’t think we all realize how much we appreciate the game, or appreciate all the little things.”

I think we all appreciate our health and the things we have and had — including hoops — more now.

Kevin Durant tips off ‘NBA 2K Players Tournament’ Friday night; start time and more

NBA 2K Players Tournament
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NBA players can’t get together right now on a real court for some playoff basketball, but they can get together virtually for an NBA 2K Tournament.

The first-ever “NBA 2K Players Tournament” tips off tonight and in the current desert of sports programming, plus the fact we’re all forced to be home, this esports event becomes must-watch NBA content. There are 16 NBA players — including Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, Zach LaVine and Devin Booker — going head-to-head in a tournament that will stretch out for eight days. All of it will be televised on some platform.

Here are the details.

Broadcast Schedule (all times Eastern)

FIRST ROUND:
Friday, April 3 on ESPN:
• 7-7:30 p.m.: NBA 2K Players Tournament Preview Show
• 7:30-8:30 p.m. ET: Derrick Jones Jr. (16) vs. Kevin Durant (1)
On ESPN2:
• 8:30-11:30 p.m.: Other matchups

Sunday, April 5 on ESPN2:
• 12-4 p.m.: Other first-round matchups

QUARTERFINALS

Tuesday, April 7 on ESPN2:
• 7-11 p.m.

SEMIFINALS & FINALS

Saturday, April 11 on ESPN:
• Timing to be announced.

WHERE TO WATCH LIVE STREAM

•ESPN App
• NBA.com
• NBA App
• Twitter (@NBA2K, @NBA),
• Twitch (@NBA2K, @NBA),
• YouTube (@NBA2K, @NBA)
• Facebook (@NBA2K, @NBA).

Competition bracket

Competition Format

The first two rounds are single elimination, then the semifinals and finals are a best-of-three.

Each player had to submit eight teams he can choose to play with during the tournament.

However, and this is a big part of the strategy, each player can only use each team once. Meaning players may not want to burn using the powerhouse teams — the Lakers, Bucks, etc. — in the early rounds of the tournament. If both players try to choose the same team, the away team gets the first choice.

Enjoy this everyone; it is going to be fun.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams: ‘I was not having Lou’

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.