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Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard says play-in tourney plan ‘would be perfect’

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Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard believes a play-in tournament for teams on the outside of the playoff picture “would be perfect” as the NBA considers its options in regard to which way it wants to potentially restart its season.

“I feel like a play-in tournament would be perfect, just because we actually were in striking distance and also had enough games to get in the playoffs,” Lillard told ESPN’s Jalen & Jacoby on Wednesday. “But to that point, if they did decide that we’re just gonna go straight to the playoffs, obviously we would all be disappointed.

“… We haven’t performed to be in that top eight. So if that’s the case, then fine. But if we’re gonna just come back to play games, I feel like that’d be harder on everybody else.”

The Blazers were 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference when the NBA season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 11.

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe have outlined, one of several ideas the league has discussed revolves around a possible play-in tournament for teams like the Blazers that are close to a playoff berth.

Lillard’s comments came a day after the All-Star told Yahoo Sports that he would not play in “meaningless” games if the Blazers don’t have a chance to make the playoffs. He tried to soften those comments Wednesday.

“I mean, I felt like the way the story was written, it was taken out of context, because it was a casual conversation,” Lillard said Wednesday. ” And it was like ‘expletive this, expletive that,’ but it wasn’t a demonstrative statement.

“I was just saying we’ve been off for two months, and if we come back, we want to play for something. So after this type of break, usually when you come back — especially with how fast we’re gonna be jumping into playing — I think guys are at risk for injury, also at risk of being exposed to whatever, because none of us have been around each other, if so many teams are gonna be in one spot.

“… Obviously as players, we want to play, but we want to play for something — especially if we’re in position to play for that in the first place.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver will continue discussing plans with the NBA’s Board of Governors during a virtual meeting Friday, sources told Wojnarowski. The plans revolve around a return to action in a possible bubble scenario at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Lillard said he feels like other players — especially those on teams with no chance to secure a playoff berth — may share a similar perspective to his.

“One of the reasons I haven’t [heard] from any other players, possibly other guys that feel the same way,” Lillard said. “They want to play for something, and some people might be looking at it like, ‘it’s almost summer.’

“This is usually when it’s our break. And if we’re gonna come back and not actually be able to play for an opportunity to continue to play, then I feel like some guys would prefer to just go on about their summer. But I want to play. I’ve said that many times: I want to play. I just want to play for an opportunity to be in the postseason. I didn’t feel like that was a bad statement.”

When asked what he would need to feel secure inside a bubble environment, Lillard made it clear that he would support any idea where the league deemed it safe enough to play.

“If they say we’re gonna go do it, I’m prepared to go do it,” Lillard said. “I think if they’re saying that, they’re putting us in an environment that’s as safe as possible. I think that’s all you can ask. I don’t think we would be any more at risk than we are in our everyday lives, going to the grocery store.”

No matter which team were to come out on top in a possible bubble scenario, Lillard does not believe the eventual champion would have an asterisk in the record books as some have suggested.

“I don’t think so,” Lillard said. “[If] something took place or whatever happened and we end up winning, I’m not gonna lose no sleep if we win. They’re gonna be like, ‘We won it.’ We were all playing under the same [conditions].”

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Pistons are transforming Detroit practice facility into voting site for 2020 elections

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In the upcoming August and November elections, Michigan residents will be able to use the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center in Detroit as a voting “Satellite Center” to register and vote on site.

Both the August 4 and November 3 elections will be company-wide paid days off to staff members so they can vote and volunteer as election workers in the community. Rallying others to do the same is a big purpose.

“When I think about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the others that have been murdered, I think of how the dead can not cry out for justice, it is the duty of the living to do so for them,” said Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem. “And in our discussions with our players, coaching staff, employees, it’s how can we make ourselves heard and make our voices count and to me, the vote is the most powerful way we can attack injustice and bring about change.”

The Detroit Pistons have also collaborated with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office to drive voter participation and awareness in addition building a voter registration page into the Pistons.com website.

“Voting is such a right that sometimes I know the younger generation takes for granted, but for us older folks it’s something that I remember when my grandparents couldn’t vote and talked about (when they) couldn’t vote,” said Pistons coach Dwane Casey. “So, one reason why we’re opening up, too, is to encourage everyone to get out and vote. That’s a right, it’s a privilege that we should never take for granted and also, too, if we want to impact change, that’s one opportunity, we have that we can impact change with.”

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is pushing for other professional sports teams to become polling sites for the November general election through his More Than A Vote organization to fight against voter suppression.

In Georgia, the Fulton County election officials this week approved the Atlanta Hawks’ proposal to use State Farm Arena as a massive polling station for Georgia’s primary runoff election on Aug. 11 and early voting for the general election scheduled for Nov. 3.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also committed to making Fiserv Forum available.

“We’re excited to partner with @morethanavote to make Fiserv Forum available as a potential voting site,” Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry wrote on Twitter. “We’re looking forward to working with the City of Milwaukee, in any capacity that we can, to ensure ppl can safely exercise their right to vote!”



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Lakers ‘hopeful’ Dwight Howard will join Orlando restart, won’t seek replacement

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LOS ANGELES — Lakers coach Frank Vogel says the team will not seek a replacement player for Dwight Howard for the Orlando restart. And, according to Vogel, the team will not ask the replacement player that it did add, JR Smith, to play like the player he replaced, Avery Bradley.

Speaking on a video conference call with reporters Wednesday at the start of the Lakers’ “pre” training camp comprised of individual workouts before the team flies to Florida next week, Vogel restated L.A.’s commitment to the backup center.

“We’ve been in communication with Dwight the whole way with supportive phone calls and text messages,” Vogel said. “We don’t know what the level of participation is going to be yet. He wants to play. We’re hopeful that he’s able to join us.”

Howard is currently with his family in Georgia, where he is satisfying the NBA’s home quarantine and testing protocol required of all players that will participate in Orlando, a league source told ESPN.

Howard’s 6-year-old son, David, is in his care. David’s mother, Melissa Rios, died of an epileptic seizure on March 27 at her home in Calabasas, California.

Not only is Howard juggling his responsibilities as a father with preparation for the finale to the season, but as a Black man he has also been deeply affected by the social unrest facing this country, according to Howard’s agent, Charles Briscoe.

“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction,” Howard said in a statement issued to CNN through Briscoe last month.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters this week that the team is working with Howard, Briscoe, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association in order to find a workable path for the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year to eventually report to the team.

All 22 teams participating in the restart were required to submit to the league their 36-person traveling party list — including their roster of up to 17 players — by Wednesday. Vogel said “we don’t have any intention” of keeping Howard off the Lakers’ list.

“He has an extenuating circumstance that he’s working with the league on in terms of what that is ultimately going to look like,” Vogel said. “But we’re hopeful and optimistic that he’ll be able to join us in Orlando.”

The NBA has already assessed player circumstances on a case-by-case basis, as players have tested positive for COVID-19 before returning to market. Sacramento Kings forward Jabari Parker, for example, will remain in Chicago before joining his teammates in Orlando as he recovers from the coronavirus, rather than trek to the West Coast beforehand.

As for Smith, he officially signed a contract with the Lakers on Wednesday, giving L.A. another option at guard after Bradley opted out of playing in Orlando last week because of family concerns. The 34-year-old, who hasn’t played in the league since November of 2018, will wear No. 21 for the Lakers.

“In terms of what he brings to the table, just the experience factor,” Vogel said of Smith, who paired with LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers to win a championship in 2016. “I mean, this guy is a big-time player. He’s proven it over the course of his career. We know he can help us.

“We almost added him earlier in the year when we added Dion Waiters and now we have the luxury of having both. We’re not going to ask him to come in and be Avery Bradley. He’s going to come in and be JR Smith. He’s going to just fill that position, more than fill that role.”

The Lakers’ Instagram account posted photos of three players working out at their El Segundo, California, facility Wednesday: James, Anthony Davis and Alex Caruso.

Caruso, who averaged 17.8 minutes before the season was suspended to Bradley’s 24.2, said he hopes to pick up some of the slack created by Bradley’s absence.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to be the sole provider of everything that Avery did,” he said on a video conference call with reporters. “That’s a lot to ask for just because of how good he is at what he does. But I’m definitely going to be ready to fill part of that gap and that need.”



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Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic expected to be back with team in Orlando, coach Michael Malone says

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Denver Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic is feeling “great” and is expected to return to the United States in time to join the team flight to Orlando, Florida, according to coach Michael Malone.

Jokic had his return to Denver delayed after testing positive for the coronavirus in Serbia, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst reported on June 23.

“Nikola feels great,” Malone said in a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. “We are working on getting him back here. Next Tuesday we depart for Orlando; the hope and expectation is that Nikola Jokic will be with us on that plane. From everything that I have heard and talked to him, he feels great, he feels fine and is excited to get back.”

Jokic will require two negative tests within 24 hours in Serbia before he can be cleared to travel. Upon arriving in Denver, Jokic will have to undergo a cardiac screening and test negative once for COVID-19.

The All-Star, who has been asymptomatic according to sources, is one of “multiple” members in the Nuggets’ traveling party to test positive for the coronavirus. The team opted to shut down its practice facility out of caution.

“We have closed down the facility,” Malone confirmed. “… We felt it was the right thing to do. Today was supposed to be the first day of Phase 3 where all our players were required to be back in the gym and we are allowed to work with them albeit just 1-on-0. We have put the safety of our team ahead of this Phase 3. There is a chance we can open the gym up before we leave, depending upon results in the coming days. I am not going to get into who tested but we have had multiple people in our travel party test positive.”

The Nuggets (43-22) will resume the season with a slimmed-down Jokic if all goes as planned. Jokic — who is averaging 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists this season — has transformed his body and lost 40 pounds during the hiatus. Images of a slimmed-down Jokic in Serbia went viral last month.

Malone said the Nuggets, who are third in the Western Conference, have not received any indication so far of any players opting out of Orlando.

With coronavirus cases surging in Florida and social unrest continuing around the country over racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, Malone said he supports any player or staff member who chooses not to participate in the NBA restart.

The Nuggets coach, who revealed in June that he had tested positive for the coronavirus in March, said he has been talking with his players about expanding the team’s platform for continuing the social justice movement.

Malone said the NBA Coaches Association is working with the Obama Foundation and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson, the nationally acclaimed public interest lawyer depicted in the movie “Just Mercy.”

“You are going to hear this a lot not only from myself but all the coaches going to Orlando,” Malone said. “Just because we are resuming the season does not mean we will get away from what is going on in our country and around the world right now… Obviously the safety, coronavirus, we all understand what the country is going on and just as important, keeping the conversation on racial justice and how we can improve not only Denver but everything in this country and around the world.”

The Nuggets have already been through a lot with Jokic and others testing positive for the virus before leaving for Orlando.

Malone said the last team standing in Orlando should be recognized for doing something no other NBA team has ever done.

“Maybe the good thing for us is having the positive tests that we have had, going down there and getting that out of the way and getting it now,” Malone said. “And when it is time to get down to the bubble, maybe you are a little more immune to getting it. But overall I feel pretty safe [about playing in Orlando].

“There has been this ongoing dialogue and conversation that whoever wins it this year, there will be an asterisk by their name and I don’t buy that at all,” Malone later added. “If you are able to go into a bubble and be isolated from your friends and family, to have no home-court advantage, to have a league interruption of four months and you are able to spend 90 days and come out of there a champion, I think this will be the toughest championship ever won. There is no asterisk.”

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