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Players debuting in bubble still eligible for Rookie of the Year in ’21

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The NBA has decided that any players who make their NBA debut in the bubble — a category most notably led by Denver Nuggets forward Bol Bol — will remain eligible for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award for the 2020-21 season, league sources told ESPN.

After Bol, a 7-foot-2 forward who is on a two-way deal with the Nuggets and didn’t play in an NBA game before the league shutting down in March, impressed in Denver’s scrimmage games inside the league’s Walt Disney World Resort bubble, the question of whether Bol playing in one or more of Denver’s seeding games would eliminate him from Rookie of the Year contention next season came up.

Voters had to submit their final choices for this year’s awards to the league office by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. According to sources, the NBA’s decision ultimately came down to the fact that, since the seeding games aren’t going to be counted toward this year’s ballot, it didn’t make sense to penalize a player like Bol from being eligible for rookie honors next season.

Bol, the son of the late Manute Bol, had 16 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks in 32 minutes in Denver’s 89-82 win over Washington on Wednesday. He followed with 15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in a 119-104 loss to New Orleans on Sunday and 10 points, 6 rebounds and a block in 19 minutes in a 114-110 loss to Orlando on Monday.

Bol was the 44th pick in June’s NBA Draft after his lone collegiate season at Oregon was cut short by a foot injury.

Denver, which enters the NBA’s restart in third place in the Western Conference, will begin play in seeding games at 1 p.m. Saturday against the Miami Heat.

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Denver Nuggets rally past Utah Jazz as clock issues mar overtime

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The first double-overtime game inside the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort, a thrilling 134-132 victory for the Denver Nuggets over the Utah Jazz, was overshadowed by a pair of clock operation malfunctions at the end of the first overtime period.

The first came with 3.4 seconds remaining, after Jazz star Donovan Mitchell had hit a jumper to make it 119-117 Utah. Following a Denver timeout, star center Nikola Jokic took the inbounds pass, dribbled to the hoop and scored.

There was only one problem: the clock never started.

The officials then reviewed the play, and after reviewing how long it took with a digital shot clock, determined that the play had taken 3.1 seconds — meaning that Jokic’s shot counted, and that Utah would get the ball back with 0.3 seconds to go.

This time, however, the problem wasn’t that the clock didn’t start — but, rather, that it was started too quickly.

When Joe Ingles inbounded the ball, the clock began before anyone touched it. That meant that Utah got a second chance to win the game, but Jordan Clarkson‘s heave at the buzzer missed long, and the game shifted to a second overtime.

For his part, Jokic said he wasn’t worried about his shot not counting.

“I thought it must count because everybody played,” Jokic said. “Just because somebody didn’t put the time on … you could just calculate the difference. So I was feeling OK [about it].”

Mitchell blamed himself for leaving time on the clock for the Nuggets to score at the end of the first overtime.

“That’s really the only reason that I’m upset, because I should know that. I should know how to attack around four or three [seconds remaining],” Mitchell said. “That’s a mental error on my part.

“I feel like if I do that and hit the same shot, they don’t have an opportunity [to tie the score]. So that’s on me. I definitely had that mental error, but at the end of the day, it’s a learning process and I’m glad we’re learning it now and not Game 4 or 5 in the playoffs.”

Eventually, Denver — with Jamal Murray back on the court for the first time inside the bubble after sitting out with a hamstring injury — was able to prevail, behind Jokic’s monster effort of 30 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in 42 minutes, including going right at Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, multiple times late in regulation and overtime and having success, including fouling Gobert out of the game late in the first overtime.

The game only made it to overtime at all because of some ridiculous heroics by Mitchell, who scored seven points in the final 10.8 seconds to allow the Jazz to erase a six-point deficit and set up some free basketball.

Mitchell hit two free throws and then, after Michael Porter Jr. lost the ball out of bounds, hit a 3-pointer out of a timeout to cut Denver’s lead to one. After Nuggets forward Jerami Grant split a pair of free throws, Mitchell — who finished with 35 points, six rebounds and eight assists — went coast-to-coast layup and, after snaking through Denver’s defense, found a clean path to the rim and laid the ball in to send the game to overtime.

In the second overtime, Denver managed to pull away thanks to Murray, who finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, who scored five straight points to give Denver the lead for good. Utah was hurt by the absence of Gobert, who had 22 points and 13 rebounds in 41 minutes before fouling out.

The Jazz still had one final opportunity to escape with a win after Murray missed a pair of free throws with 4.2 seconds remaining, but Mitchell’s heave from halfcourt fell short, and the Nuggets escaped from a game they once trailed by as many as 18 points with a win.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder didn’t give a direct answer when asked about how the clock malfunctions were handled, particularly the one on the Jokic bucket.

“It’s hard to point to any one thing,” Snyder said. “The refs have their job to do, and we have our job to do.”

With the win, Denver is now two full games ahead of Houston for third place in the West. Utah, on the other hand, is percentage points ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth place — setting up the very real possibility that these two teams will meet in the first round of the playoffs when they begin on Aug. 17.

Information from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon was used in this report.

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After missing two key free throws, Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard takes some jabs on social media from short-handed Clippers

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After watching Damian Lillard shockingly miss two free throws with a chance to put the Portland Trail Blazers up with 18.6 seconds left, Patrick Beverley celebrated on the LA Clippers‘ bench by imitating Lillard’s trademark Dame Time celebration by pointing to his wrist before later waving bye at Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.

When told after the stinging 122-117 loss to the Clippers that Beverley and Paul George waved bye to the Blazers, Lillard strongly reminded the two Clippers of what he has done to them in the past. That then led to back-and-forth trash talking on social media afterward.

“PG did the wave because he also was surprised [about the missed free throws] because he experienced being waved at last year,” Lillard said of his famous wave goodbye to Russell Westbrook and George after his walk-off game-winning 3-pointer that eliminated the Thunder in Game 5 of the first round last year.

“Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who I sent him home before at the end of a game. Paul George is a guy sent home by me last year in the playoffs so they know. The reason they reacting like that is because of what they expecting from me, which is a sign of respect and it just shows what I have done at a high clip more times than not. I am not offended by it.

“If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.”

After Lillard’s quote was plastered on a Bleacher Report Instagram post, George and Beverley commented.

Beverley posted “Cancun on 3” with three crying laughing emojis in the comment section.

George also commented: “And you getting sent home this year” with a crying laughing emoji and a fist emoji next to the word respect.”

Lillard then replied to George by pointing out how the Clippers forward requested trades from Indiana and Oklahoma City to play with Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard: “keep switching teams … running from the grind. You boys is chumps.”

Before the social media smack talk, George was asked in his postgame session with reporters about the chatter between the two teams during the game.

“Competition,” George explained. “It’s part of the game. Simple as that. … Some people can play with talking, some people can’t.”

This is a loss that hurts for the Blazers. In hot pursuit of the eighth seed, the Blazers (32-39) now trail Memphis (33-37) by 1.5 games. This despite the fact that they were facing a Clippers team that did not have Leonard, who sat the game out to manage soreness in his left knee which is routine during Clippers’ back-to-back set of games.

The Clippers were also without Beverley (left calf strain) and Montrezl Harrell (not with team). And on top of that, Doc Rivers played George just two minutes in the fourth due to a minutes limit.

Despite playing against Clippers’ reserves, the Blazers trailed 118-117 after Rodney McGruder drilled a 3-pointer. Lillard, a career 88.9% free throw shooter, missed both free throws to the delight of Beverley and Marcus Morris Sr., who celebrated in the Clippers bench area.

“Real surprised,” George said of the missed free throws when asked in his session with reporters. “I’m sure he probably was. But he missed them. It’s part of the game. It is what it is.”

Lillard rarely misses in that situation. Entering today, the point guard was 30-for-36 on free throws in clutch time this season and an 89.7% career free-throw shooter in the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“Once I got to the line down one, I felt good about that,” Lillard said. “I was like OK, we are going to be up one. Come down get a stop and then it is a free-throw game. And then left the first one short. Even after that, I was like alright, it is going to be tied and they going to get the last shot. And then left another one short, and I was just like … sometimes that has to happen.”

Afterward, Lillard owned up to the missed free throws and said it will not linger.

“I don’t see myself as a mental midget or somebody that is going to hold on to it,” Lillard said. “I am a shooter.”

There’s a pretty good chance, though, he will remember Beverley celebrating the way he did and George’s social media comment.

“I didn’t see it but I heard about it,” Lillard said about Beverley’s imitations of Lillard’s celebrations. “After I missed the first one, I heard them over there yelling. To me, that just shows what they expect from me down the stretch. They know what I do. And he saw it first hand when I was a second-year player when he was in Houston. So I’m sure he has a great memory of that, which is why that drew that type of reaction from him when he saw me come up short at the end of a game.”

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Raptors’ Marc Gasol prepared for a sentimental first matchup with Grizzlies, his former team

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Marc Gasol spent parts of 11 seasons in Memphis, going to three All-Star Games with a Grizzlies jersey on his back, earning two All-NBA selections there and a Defensive Player of the Year award as well.

And now, he’ll play against his former team for the first time.

The Grizzlies face Gasol and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. It’ll be the first game between the clubs since Gasol was traded to Toronto in February 2019 — a move that helped the Raptors win last season’s NBA championship.

Gasol said facing Memphis would be emotional.

“I got there when I was 16 years old. It was my first time out of Spain,” said Gasol, who still owns his Memphis home. “I started high school there as a teenager and left as a father of two kids. … My ties to the city and my roots go pretty deep and my love for the people there, what they mean and the franchise, it’s forever.”

Gasol helped Memphis make the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons including the 2013 run to the Western Conference finals. He is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader for minutes played, field goals made, free throws made and attempted, rebounds, blocks and triple-doubles and is second in points — 49 behind Mike Conley.

The Raptors were supposed to have played back-to-back games against Memphis this season, going there March 28 and then playing host to the Grizzlies March 30. Those games, of course, were called off because of the season suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Obviously it’s a little bittersweet that we couldn’t play in the city of Memphis, to get that love and feel that Iove from the fans,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “But I’m sure he’ll be happy to see some familiar faces and a lot of the people that he spent a lot of time with over the years.”

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