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NBA Power Rankings Week 18



The 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend is in the books, and the second half of the NBA season is upon us. The teams with the two best records were represented by All-Star captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of the teams without a representative in Chicago, some were taking advantage of much-needed downtime to recover from nagging injuries while others felt their stars were snubbed. Other teams, like the Miami Heat, proved what a threat their young core will be as they compete for top seeding in the West. Here’s what our experts are watching as we enter the final two months of the regular season.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Andre’ Snellings, Royce Young and Bobby Marks and The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 17 | 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Training camp | Free agency | Post-Finals

1. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 46-8
Week 17 ranking: 1

The Bucks’ primary mission: Finish the season healthy and playing well, and prepared for the playoffs. They still have a legitimate shot at 70 wins, but their loss to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals last season weighs heavily on the minds of fans, analysts and the team itself. With a 6½-game lead for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, Milwaukee will look to the postseason and focus on winning a title. — Snellings

This week: @DET, PHI

2. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 41-12
Week 17 ranking: 2

The Lakers enter the second half of the season with a four-game lead on the second-place Nuggets. Landing the top seed would be very valuable for LeBron James and the Lakers. But keep in mind that it is not out of the realm of possibility for the Clippers to land the fourth seed, which could mean a conference semifinal meeting between the two L.A. teams. — Spears

This week: MEM, BOS

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 40-15
Week 17 ranking: 3

The Raptors had their 15-game winning streak snapped in the last game before the All-Star break and currently sit as the second seed in the Eastern Conference. While they are unlikely to catch the top-seeded Bucks, the Raptors are only three games behind the Lakers (41-12) in the loss column for the second-best record in the NBA. With a .727 win percentage and plus-6.3 scoring margin, this season’s Raptors are actually slightly ahead of their championship pace (.707 win percentage, plus-5.8 scoring margin) from last season. — Snellings

This week: PHX, IND

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Celtics’ Marcus Smart donating blood for experimental coronavirus treatment



Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who announced Monday that he is clear of COVID-19 after testing positive two weeks ago, confirmed Tuesday night that he plans to donate blood so it can be studied with the hope of finding a treatment for the coronavirus.

Michael Joyner, an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic, told ABC News that at least four NBA players who have recovered from COVID-19 plan to donate blood for the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, an experimental treatment that could help high-risk patients recover from the virus.

Smart confirmed through his agent that he is one of the players who opted in. The identities of the three other players were not revealed.

The NBA league office reached out to team physicians Sunday, encouraging players who have recovered from the virus to consider participating in the experimental treatment, according to a copy of the memo obtained by ABC News.

Joyner said Tuesday that he believes the experimental treatment “can be disease-modifying and reduce duration and severity in some patients.” The therapy utilizes the antibodies in blood from recovered patients to potentially curb the virus in sick patients.

Joyner said professional athletes could be especially valuable plasma donors.

“These are big men with blood volumes, and as a result [they] have a lot of plasma volume,” Joyner said. “Frequently people who are physically trained also have an increase in their plasma volume from what you would expect from them just being regular-sized guys.”

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NBA, players discuss withholding pay if regular-season games canceled



The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are discussing scenarios for withholding up to 25 percent of players’ remaining salaries in a league escrow should regular-season games eventually be cancelled, sources tell ESPN.

The NBA continues to be hopeful that there will be a resumption of some part of the regular season and playoffs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but the uncertainty surrounding the league’s ability to fulfill its full 82-game regular season will ultimately be a financial cost that’s shared among owners and players.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement maintains that players lose approximately 1 percent of salary per cancelled game based on a Force Majeure provision, which covers several catastrophic circumstances, including epidemics and pandemics.

Once there’s a cancellation of games, the Force Majeure is automatically triggered under the language of the CBA.

Commissioner Adam Silver, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts and a group of league and union lawyers have been discussing a number of ways to prepare financially for how the likely cancelling of scheduled games will impact some percentage of lost salary for players, sources said.

If there is no forthcoming NBA and NBPA agreement on beginning to withhold a percentage of players’ salaries with the April 15 paychecks, players would continue getting paid in full on a normal timetable. Under the guidelines in the CBA, players would be required to pay back the salary later based upon a formula of canceled games for a players’ individual team and his salary.

The NBA has no plans to announce the cancellation of games in the immediate future, sources said. The league’s plan has been to continue working on a number of contingencies for returns from a hiatus that started on March 11, based upon how many days the league has to work with to salvage a season, sources said.

The NBA has committed to paying full salaries on April 1, but the league and union are discussing ways for an orderly redistribution of money based on the number of regular-season games that could be lost in the 2019-2020 season.

The Force Majeure becomes one more mechanism for the NBA to make the financial formula work on delivering the players to the agreed-upon 51 percent share of the revenues with owners.

Already, 10 percent of players’ salaries are held in escrow by the league. The significant decline in Basketball Related Income (BRI) would result in the projected $380 million of escrow returning to the 30 NBA teams after the season. The amount of projected revenue loss without the application of the Force Majeure would exceed the current amount of escrow available to teams. As a result, the NBA would need others means to offset the loss. In the case where salaries decrease (as a result of games missed) to a point where there’s a shortage in the escrow system, the 10 percent currently withheld would likely be returned to the players.

The use of the Force Majeure further protects against a dramatic drop in the salary cap and luxury tax for next season.

In the case where salaries decrease to a point where there’s a shortage in the escrow system, the 10 percent currently withheld would likely be returned to the players.

If the NBPA doesn’t agree to withholding possible Force Majeure payments in a similar escrow fashion, players simply have to pay back the difference in the money owed to the team at season’s end. If a player is traded or signs a free agent deal with a new team without having fulfilled the payment, that new team would be required to withhold the difference in salary payment to the player and send the money owed to the previous team, according to the CBA.

Among the 434 players under contract, less than 10 percent — including Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James — are paid on a shortened pay period that runs Nov. 15 to May 1. For example, the James is owed two more paychecks (April 15 and May 1), but according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NBA could recoup future salary because he’s under contract for 2020-2021.

A more challenging scenario could come with a player like Toronto’s Marc Gasol, who will become a free agent this summer. After receiving his April 1 check, Gasol has two installments each left of $2.15 million. Because of his shortened pay schedule and pending free agency, the NBA would need to withhold a greater percentage compared to a player paid over 24 installments.

The remaining 90 percent of players are paid over the course of the year, starting on Nov. 15 and ending on Nov. 1. After April 1, players have 14 paychecks remaining that would allow the NBA to put a percentage of salary in a separate escrow account. Players would still receive a pay check on April 15, with amount eventually returned to the players or kept by the NBA based upon the number of games played in the remainder of the season.

The NBA doesn’t want a scenario where it has to pursue players for payment on cancelled games, which is part of why they’re working with the NBPA on finding ways for players to be able to budget the loss of income on this season’s salary over an extended period.

If the NBA does eventually enact the Force Majeure provision, it provides the league the option within 60 days of re-opening and renegotiating the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the union, which is currently set through 2025.

The NBA has expressed no interest in triggering this option under the current circumstances, sources said.

Essentially, that’s meant for a doomsday scenario where the league would have to function differently over a period of years – not months – and the entire financial structure of the partnership needs to be rebooted. There has been no conversation within the NBA or with the NBPA about the potential of exercising that option, sources said.

Silver and approximately 100 of the NBA’s top-earning league office executives took 20 percent reductions in base pay last week, sources told ESPN. Those are expected to continue through the balance of the coronavirus pandemic.

ESPN Front Office Insider Bobby Marks contributed to this report.

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Nets’ Kevin Durant leads field of 16 in NBA 2K20 tournament on ESPN



The NBA, NBA Players Association and 2K have partnered to produce an NBA 2K tournament that will air on ESPN and ESPN2 starting Friday, it was announced.

The NBA 2K20 Player Tournament is Friday through April 11, according to a statement, and will begin airing on ESPN with a half-hour preshow at 7 p.m. ET. The tournament will run on ESPN until 8:30 p.m. and then is scheduled to transition to ESPN2 until 11:30 p.m.

Sixteen NBA players will compete, including Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Hassan Whiteside, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker and others.

The winner of the event will receive $100,000 to give to a charity in support of coronavirus relief efforts.

“We’re thrilled to partner with the NBA and NBPA to bring basketball back to fans throughout the world and to help those in need during these uncertain times,” said Jason Argent, 2K senior vice president, sports strategy and licensing. “Entertainment, especially sports, has the ability to bring communities together — including athletes, fans and families — and we hope that everyone will enjoy the tournament.”

Players were seeded based on their player rating in NBA 2K20, with Durant, a 96 overall in the game, as the No. 1 seed. Players who were tied in overall rating were seeded based on tenure in the league.

Scheduled participants, with player ranking in parenthesis, includes:

  1. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (96)

  2. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks (90)

  3. Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers (87)

  4. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (87)

  5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (86)

  6. Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers (85)

  7. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (85)

  8. Montrezl Harrell, LA Clippers (85)

  9. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers (85)

  10. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns (85)

  11. DeMarcus Cousins (81)

  12. Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets (81)

  13. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards (79)

  14. Patrick Beverley, LA Clippers (78)

  15. Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings (78)

  16. Derrick Jones Jr., Miami Heat (78)

The schedule for the NBA 2K20 Player Tournament:

  • Friday, April 3, ESPN, 7-8:30 p.m. ET

  • Friday, April 3, ESPN2, 8:30-11:30 p.m. ET

  • Sunday, April 5, ESPN2, 12-4 p.m. ET

  • Tuesday, April 7, ESPN2, 7-11 p.m. ET

  • Saturday, April 11, ESPN, Time TBD

All games will be available as VODs on ESPN3 following live competition

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