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Report: No chance of traditional NBA playoffs this season

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The NBA playoffs have a familiar format – four rounds, best-of-seven series, games in front of fans at home arenas.

But the coronavirus, which has forced the NBA into an indefinite stoppage and disrupted life around the world, makes that untenable. Don’t expect the league to wait until that’s workable, either.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

At this point, several team and league officials told SI.com, any chance of a traditional postseason is out.

A shortened playoffs in Las Vegas is gaining momentum. It’d allow the NBA, hemorrhaging money, to draw revenue sooner. A reduced postseason would also minimize disruption to future seasons.

But even that comes with major complications, especially containing coronavirus from undermining the entire operation. It could be a long time until its safe to hold games, even in a centralized location without fans.

It could be so long… a traditional playoffs could be back on the table. Though I find that unlikely, I’m still not convince people have a proper understanding of how lengthy this hiatus could be.

Everyone wants to finish the season. The playoffs are the NBA’s most lucrative time, and it feels right to crown a champion.

So, it’s good the focus is on alternative formats. It’d be naïve to expect business as usual when the NBA resumes.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says James Harden is the toughest player to guard in the league

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There’s a feud between Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. It goes back more than a year and includes Harden’s frustration that Antetokounmpo won the MVP award over him last season (Harden told Rachel Nichols, “I wish I could just run and be seven feet and just dunk. Like that takes no skill at all”).

That doesn’t mean there isn’t respect. The Greek Freak was taking fan questions during an Instagram Live session and was asked who is the toughest player to guard in the league. He said Harden.

Harden has won the NBA scoring title two years in a row and it will be three whenever this season ends — Antetokounmpo isn’t the only defender who has trouble with The Beard. Harden’s combination of the best step-back three in the game, strength on the drive, hesitation moves, and ability to draw fouls makes him nearly an impossible cover. It’s why teams started sending doubles at him just over halfcourt this season, just to get the ball out of his hands and dare anyone else to beat them (Russell Westbrook gladly accepted that challenge).

Harden is the best pure scorer in the league.

And Antetokounmpo is going to win the MVP award again because of his overall play.

Olympics postponement should force USA Basketball to change roster strategy

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USA Basketball named 44 finalists last month for the Tokyo Olympics.

No Zion Williamson. No Ja Morant. Not even Trae Young, who’s already an All-Star starter and on track to get even better.

USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo explained: Though young players would eventually get their turn, the 2020 Olympics would be for players who previously represented the U.S.

Except there will be no 2020 Olympics.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Games have been postponed to 2021. By then, USA Basketball’s plan to build an older roster – already a suspect strategy – will become even less tenable.

The 2019 FIBA World Cup showed the Americans’ vulnerability. They finished seventh – their worst-ever finish in a major tournament. The United States’ advantage is depth of star talent. That has carried Team USA through deficient cohesion and comfort with international rules/style. The 2019 squad lacked the usual star power.

Anything USA Basketball does to lower its talent level – including giving preferential treatment to past-their-peak players based on prior contributions – increases risk of another letdown.

Chris Paul sounded ready for Tokyo. But he’ll turn 35 this spring and would have been one of the oldest players ever on Team USA if competing in an on-time Olympics. LeBron James – who is at least open to another Olympics – is even older than Paul. Several other aging veterans are in the mix.

Already, half the finalists will be in their 30s by the time the Games were originally scheduled to begin.

Though that doesn’t necessarily mean the final roster would have been old, it’s a telling starting point. The average age of the finalists is 28.1.* In 2016, it was 26.4 In 2012, it was 26.8.

*On Feb. 1 of that year

Again, the final roster could have shaken out differently. But imagine this team:

A little backcourt-heavy? Yes. But so is the United States’ top-end talent.  Will Stephen Curry play? His father said yes, though that was before Curry was sidelined even longer than he expected. So, there’s plenty of room to quibble with the selections. But it’s at least a reasonable facsimile of the final roster.

The average age* of that group: 29.5.

That’d be the second-oldest Team USA in the Olympics, shy of only the 1996 squad. It’s even older than the original Dream Team, which – as the first Olympic team to include NBA players – definitely prioritized rewarding career accomplishments.

Here’s the average age* of each Team USA since NBA players began competing in the Olympics:

*Age for Team USA’s first game or, in 2020, first originally scheduled game of the tournament

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see taking that same group to Tokyo in 2021 would make it Team USA’s oldest-ever squad, advancing the average age a full year to 30.5.

Plenty will change in the next year. It’s easy to project growth from players like Trae Young, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. But whether or not those three in particular meet expectations, other young players will rise. Some of these older players will decline further.

Of course, there will still be room for some veterans in 2021. Chris Paul is flourishing with the Thunder and could continue to play at a high level. LeBron James is so dominant, he has plenty of room to decline while remaining elite.

But USA Basketball should be open-minded about emerging young players. That’s the only way to ensure a maximumly talented roster.

In 2020, it was foolish to pretend it’s 2016 or even 2012.

It’d be even more misguided to do so in 2021.

Other teams reportedly expect Pelicans to match any offer for Brandon Ingram

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Brandon Ingram could be the best player listening to offers in NBA free agency (whenever it takes place).

There are bigger names and better players available, but they are not free agents looking to test the market — Anthony Davis will re-sign with the Lakers, Andre Drummond is expected to opt-in with the Cavaliers, same with Gordon Hayward in Boston, and the list goes on.

Ingram might listen to offers, and after a breakout All-Star season there will be teams interested. However, Ingram is a restricted free agent and other teams expect the Pelicans to match any offer, Chris Fedor writes at Cleveland.com.

The one restricted free agent with appeal is Brandon Ingram. Multiple sources expect the New Orleans Pelicans to match any offer sheet.

While this is what every team with a coveted restricted free agent says (they are trying to drive away competitors), this also is exactly what people watching the league expect. Ingram was an All-Star this season averaging 24.3 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, displaying a new and improved jump shot, plus he fit well next to Zion Williamson. With that the Pelicans are expected to max him out, a contract that still would be tradable in a year or two — if needed — because he can still get buckets.

There will be buzz about teams being interested in Ingram — because they are. That said, the leaks may be more about a team showing its fan base it is trying more than expecting to land Ingram.

The Pelicans are not letting him go.

Pelicans’ David Griffin: ‘The idea of canceling a season is not all on [the NBA’s] minds’

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Fox Sports New Orleans, like the local broadcasters for many NBA teams, is reshowing some older games from earlier this season. Something has to fill the airtime with the NBA shutdown.

This weekend, New Orleans streamed a live pregame show for its recorded game and brought in David Griffin, the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations (read: the guy with the hammer), to talk about the team.

Of course he was asked about play resuming, and while he didn’t pretend to have any answers (nobody does), he said the league was not talking about canceling the season. (Transcription via Jim Eichenhofer at Pelicans.com.)

“With everything changing so quickly, everything is in a state of flux that I think it would be premature for the NBA to say what it ultimately looks like. I do know unequivocally that the league is very mindful of the idea of getting back to playing. The idea of canceling a season is not all on their minds, and we’re modeling every possible thing we can for how we can deliver a product to the fans. Quite frankly, we’re all going to need a diversion in the future. (But) until we can get to a point where we think we’ve got containment of (the coronavirus), we’re going to continue to stay locked down. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can come back sooner rather than later.”

That is the optimistic viewpoint, and primarily what I hear talking to sources around the league — the NBA wants to play games and crown a champion, in whatever form that ultimately takes. There are financial and continuity reasons for this, but nobody wants a 1994 baseball year (although that World Series was lost to a players’ strike). There is a growing pessimism from some in the league, looking at the timelines of a potential coronavirus spread in the U.S., that the league may end up having to cancel. Ultimately, however, nobody knows.

Just don’t underestimate how much the NBA wants to get games played and have a Finals this year.

Also of interest in the pregame, Griffin talked about the connection between Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball on the court.

“A big part of it is the chemistry you see with Lonzo and Zion,” Griffin said. “They have a special connection. I think Nicolo Melli getting more minutes, and him starting to become a key part of the rotation has been essential as well. Those three guys work incredibly well as a unit. The two people who were most damaged by (Williamson’s) absence individually were probably Lonzo – because Zion gives us another player who can create vertical thrust in the offense – and Lonzo can pick defenses apart with his passing…

“Melli, when there is that dive thrust (by Williamson) toward the rim, (Melli) is going to be pulling bigs away from the basket,” Griffin said. “He is absolutely essential when Zion’s on the floor, from a spacing standpoint. When you see the relationship between those three growing, it just exponentially improves our team.”