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Jazz’s Rudy Gobert says challenge of coronavirus backlash ‘not easy’

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Despite making the NBA All-Star team for the first time of his career this season, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has had to overcome his fair share of public shaming after becoming the first NBA player to test positive for coronavirus.

The two-time Defensive Player of the Year’s positive test ultimately triggered the league’s suspension on March 11 then damaged his relationship with teammate Donovan Mitchell after he also tested positive the next day.

After having time to reflect on the situation, the French native says their relationship is better and he’s ready to put this behind him to help the Jazz push for a title during the Orlando restart.

“Obviously, when you have the whole world judging you or threatening you or sending you a lot of negative energy and stuff like that, it’s something that I would say is not easy as a human being,” Gobert said. “But, at the same time, people are just judging you on the perception they have and the perception you get from sometimes it can be one picture, one video or one interview, one action. So, people don’t really know you.

“People around me, they really know me, they know who I am and that’s what matters to me,” he added. “At the end of the day, I won’t be able to control everyone’s perception of me, but I can control my actions, I can control the things I do for the people around me, the community. The things I do for my teammates on the court, off the court, all that stuff I can control it and that’s what really matters to me.”

As far as his relationship with Mitchell, the two stars say they’re “good” and can co-exist moving forward in Utah. Mitchell called it no secret that he was upset with Gobert’s initial careless behavior, such as touching the microphones of reporters following a press conference, before becoming aware of his infection, but they’ll be ready when it’s time to clock in.

“You look at all duos and for us it’s like, there’s going to be tension. There’s going to be back and forth,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, I feel like I should be right here. He feels like he should be right there, but it’s always going to happen. It happens on every team, doesn’t matter if they win championships or they’re a last place team, it’s always gonna happen. So, I feel like even in a work environment, you’re not gonna always get along or go out to eat or hang out with your teammates.”

With the NBA’s July 30 restart quickly approaching, the Jazz are set to leave for Orlando on July 7. Gobert says he’s more comfortable with the bubble concept after extensive talks with members of the NBA and NBPA. He recently regained his smell after having trouble for three months after the diagnosis.

With all he’s been through lately, he sees basketball as a way to clear his mind.

“A lot of stuff is going on and it’s been a process but I’m happy now that I’m in a good place and I’m happy that I get the joy back from playing basketball with my team and the competitiveness is back,” Gobert said. “I’m ready to try to go out there and try to win the championship. That’s the goal. To be honest, after everything we’ve been through, as a team and as human beings, it would be a great comeback.”

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Source — Magic forward Jonathan Isaac has torn ACL in left knee

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Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac tore the ACL in his left knee on Sunday, a source told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Isaac drove the lane and did a hop step between two defenders against the Kings. Then he immediately fell to the floor in pain, untouched, while clutching his left knee with 9:19 left in the fourth quarter during the Magic’s 132-116 win.

Isaac had his head in his hands as he was wheeled off the court accompanied by Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman.

This was Isaac’s second game back since he hyperextended his left knee on Jan. 1 at Washington. Isaac, who missed 31 games because of the injury, left the game with 4 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in 15 minutes.

Even though the Magic routed the Kings, the Magic bench looked subdued following Isaac’s injury.

“That was tough, man,” teammate Aaron Gordon said. “That one brought me to tears and instantly — just because I know how good of a guy JI is and how hard he works and how hard he has worked to get back since hurting himself in D.C. That was tough.”

Kings big man Harry Giles III, who tore both of his ACLs in high school and had a procedure on his left knee before starting his college career at Duke, said he spoke to Isaac briefly before he left the floor.

“Just kind of telling him to stay up, stay positive,” Giles said. “I just hate to see that because it’s tough. I don’t really like speaking on that too much. It’s just unfortunate, man, because he’s been working and with the brace on. You hate to see him get hurt again.”

Nikola Vucevic, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds for Orlando in a 132-116 win, said it was “very difficult” to see Isaac go down injured.

“For him to go down like that was very difficult to see, especially when you know he just came back,” Vucevic said.

ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk, Tim Bontemps and Nick Friedell contributed to this report.

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NBA restart real or not

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Who are the new favorites to make the NBA playoffs as the No. 8 seed in each conference? Can anybody get past the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers in the West? Who will be the best rookie in the bubble?

After the first weekend of the 2020 NBA restart, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of the postseason race and all 22 teams in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The first four days have been full of surprises, clutch performances and a few painful losses.

But what’s next? Our NBA experts weigh in on eight of the biggest trends and questions, answering if each development is real or not.


Real or not: The Grizzlies are still favorites to get the final West playoff spot

I was much more confident in Memphis’ odds to hang onto the West’s final playoff spot before bubble play began with the Grizzlies suffering tight losses to the two teams closest to their tail. But I’m still saying real and going with Memphis.

As inexperienced as the Grizzlies are, my hunch is Ja Morant is too mentally tough to allow them to crumble in the seeding schedule and stumble into ninth place. The play-in scenario set-up — the ninth-place team would have to win two in a row to claim the postseason bid — makes it a long shot for the team that finishes eighth in the standings to exit before the playoffs begin.

Then again, it’s never wise to bet on the San Antonio Spurs missing the playoffs under any circumstances. After all, the Spurs have been postseason participants 22 years and counting and have somehow positioned themselves to sneak in again, only trailing Memphis by two games. — Tim MacMahon


Real or not: The Washington Wizards can’t make this a real race for No. 8

Real. Even if the Wizards had beaten the Nets on Sunday, they were facing an uphill climb. Now, the math doesn’t add up.

With the loss to Brooklyn, Washington is three games back of even forcing a play-in game with six games left to play. If the Nets go winless in those six games, Washington would have to go 3-3. The Wizards’ remaining schedule consists of the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. Anything is possible, but it is hard to find three wins out of that group.

And if the Wizards do beat the odds and get to within four games of Brooklyn, they would have to win back-to-back games. That’s all extremely unlikely. — Bobby Marks


Real or not: Raptors-Bucks Pt. II is happening

Real easy to imagine. Last spring, the Bucks and Raptors treated us to a high-level chess match whose momentum flipped in an instant, with the Raptors tightening the vise on Giannis Antetokounmpo and swamping the Bucks at the point of attack.

In the Year of the Bubble, the Milwaukee end of the sequel equation is easier to balance because there are few matchups in the early bracket against which the Bucks’ combo of length, range, skill and physicality won’t be a decisive favorite. The Bucks have been honing their systems on both sides of the floor for two years. “Culture” is an attribute that’s ascribed too often in the NBA, but the ease with which Milwaukee moves through its day-to-day routine has the manner of a champion.

While Boston would be a very tough out for Toronto, the Raptors are picking up where they left off — witness the gutsy victory over the Lakers on Saturday, when they gave up a measly 92 points in 103 possessions. Their versatile, fire drill of a defense that strangles opponents is an improvement on last season. A rematch with Milwaukee would be an entirely different affair without Kawhi Leonard, but the Raptors have somehow built a team that, so far, seems as resilient as the one that shocked the world. — Kevin Arnovitz

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Kyle Lowry leads the way for the Raptors as he drops 33 points in their 107-92 win vs. the Lakers.

Real or not: No one can get past the Lakers and Clippers in the West playoffs

Don’t be fooled by the Lakers’ ugly finish and shooting against Toronto on Saturday night. The rest of the West should not be able to derail an all-LA bubble battle in the conference finals.

Sure, unforeseen circumstances could impact matters. When it comes to strictly basketball, Houston definitely has the offensive firepower but it is hard seeing them muster enough defense to beat the Lakers or Clippers four times. Denver has a strong core but is missing key contributors and dealing with inconsistency. Utah, OKC and Dallas have some potential, but not enough to steal four games in a playoff series.

Look at what the Clippers have been able to do so far — battling the Lakers until the final seconds and crushing the Pelicans — without Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. And while the Lakers have looked a little vulnerable, LeBron James and Anthony Davis have only lost twice to one Western Conference team this season, and that’s the Clippers. The Rockets might have the best shot of the other contenders, but it’s hard seeing anyone outside of the two LA teams representing the West in the Finals. — Ohm Youngmisuk


Real or not: The Mavericks’ crunch-time woes will sink them in the playoffs

Real, but also not. Clutch performance is far too random to assume that the Mavericks’ struggles down the stretch will carry over. Over the 23 seasons in the NBA Advanced Stats database, teams’ clutch offensive rating (in the last five minutes of games within five points) during the regular season has explained just 2% of their playoff rating.

Consider the 2011-12 Philadelphia 76ers, who averaged 89.9 points per 100 possessions in clutch situations during the regular season, finishing as the eighth seed. In the 2012 playoffs, the Sixers’ clutch offensive rating improved to 136.4 — best of any team with at least 50 clutch possessions since 1997 — as they got within a game of the conference finals.

However, Dallas’ clutch woes will probably consign them to the seventh seed and a first-round matchup with the Clippers. In that sense, the late-game problems we saw on Friday — costing them a big win over Houston — will ultimately sink their playoff hopes. — Kevin Pelton

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Kristaps Porzingis drops 39 points and 16 rebounds in the Mavericks’ first game back since March, but Dallas fails to secure the win in overtime, losing 153-149.

Real or not: Jayson Tatum will regularly repeat his highly-efficient Sunday performance in the playoffs

Still to be determined. At age 22, Tatum has all the gifts to become one of the league’s premier scorers, but he’s not quite there yet — at least consistently.

This season, he’s been able to increase both his activity and his efficiency from downtown, making an impressive 39.4% of his 7.1 attempts per game, while simultaneously picking better shots inside the arc. The results are encouraging …

… but the execution isn’t always consistent. In Friday’s restart opener versus the Bucks and their top-ranked defense, Tatum was frozen, sinking just two of his 18 shots and hurting Boston’s ability to steal a win. Then on Sunday vs. Portland, Tatum bounced back with a huge game, scoring 34 points on 22 shots and looking like the best player on the court.

Here’s the thing: Boston’s bubble fate depends on whether or not Tatum can play like he did Sunday against top defenses — you know, teams like Milwaukee and Toronto, which rank No. 1 and No. 2 in defensive rating. Tatum has had an incredible season, but he’s yet to prove he can do this every night. — Kirk Goldsberry


Real or not: The Sixers’ starting lineup shouldn’t include Shake Milton

Not real. Milton was surprisingly good for the 76ers in the six weeks leading up to the March shutdown. That’s what made his performance in Saturday night’s opener against the Pacers so confounding.

Not only was Milton awful — missing his only shot while logging three assists, three turnovers and five fouls in 19 minutes — but he also lost his cool in a heated argument with Joel Embiid after two particularly ugly miscues late in the first quarter.

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During a timeout, Joel Embiid has words with Shake Milton, which upsets Milton, requiring teammates to intervene.

Still, one bad game shouldn’t be enough to change the plans head coach Brett Brown came into camp with to play Milton in the starting five. His track record so far this season (including shooting 45 percent from 3) earned him more time than this. Plus, Al Horford (minus-26 in 23 minutes) certainly didn’t do anything to reclaim his starting job. Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle did nothing to take it for themselves either.

So, at least for now, Milton should stay put. Philly just has to hope that the player it saw earlier in the season comes back starting Monday against San Antonio. — Tim Bontemps


Real or not: Ja Morant will be the best rookie in the bubble

Real. Even with the Grizzlies dropping their first two seeding games in heartbreaking fashion, the Rookie of the Year favorite is going to end up being the most impressive first-year player in this restart.

That isn’t to say a healthy Zion Williamson doesn’t have a higher ceiling long-term, but in terms of which rookie will have the greatest impact while in the bubble, it’s Morant, who is already averaging 23.5 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds through two games with highlights you only see from the league’s most established stars.

A few things working in Morant’s favor: He has the ball in his hands more than any other rookie. Memphis needs the best version of him to hang onto the No. 8 seed and Morant is built for pressure-packed moments as one of the league’s best fourth-quarter scorers. — Mike Schmitz

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Mavericks clinch playoff spot with Grizzlies’ loss; drought to end at 3 years

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The Dallas Mavericks‘ playoff drought will end after three seasons.

The Mavs officially clinched a playoff berth due to the Memphis Grizzlies‘ 108-106 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon.

The Mavs will finish no lower than seventh in the Western Conference standings.

“It’s important,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said before the Mavs’ game against the Phoenix Suns. “We’re certainly happy about it. We certainly would have loved to have won the other night and have gotten in on a win, but tonight we have another opportunity. To be in and be assured of the seventh position is good, but we came here to move up.”

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