Information about what has been happening inside the NBA is somewhat scarce as the workweek begins, with the daily search for box scores and game stories that NBA fans undergo every morning having been turned into a time-consuming process.
Blame it on BubbleBall, or the coronavirus, or folks being on summertime schedules, but it sure was a whole heck of a lot easier to figure stuff out before the whole world began wearing face masks.
That being said, there has been a bunch of NBA news out of Orlando, and this column will help you get caught up as the workweek begins.
The regular season resumes Thursday evening with the Utah Jazz playing the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angeles Clippers playing the Los Angeles Lakers, that second matchup almost needing an asterisk because of the tenuous makeup of the Clippers’ re-opening night roster.
Lou Williams will not be playing Thursday night as he will be confined to his hotel room in Orlando “serving” a 10-day quarantine after he was photographed by rapper Jack Harlow at an Atlanta strip club. Harlow quickly deleted the post from his Instagram story and tweeted Friday, “That was an old pic of me and Lou. I was just reminiscing cuz I miss him.” (In the photograph, Williams is holding a drink and wearing an NBA mask given out on the Orlando campus.)
But that cover story apparently was not true. At least Williams escaped a fine, which would have made this tweet especially salient:
At least the Clippers have Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell back after they each spent several days outside the bubble for different reasons. Also, reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard was a late arrival in Orlando for Doc Rivers’ team.
Leonard, Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris and JaMychael Green started Saturday’s scrimmage against the Washington Wizards, a 105-100 victory. Los Angeles completes its exhibition schedule this afternoon against Sacramento.
Something about the Clippers to watch for in the days and weeks ahead: Will there be a significant role for veteran center Joakim Noah, who has always been an eager antagonist for LeBron James? It could depend on the health of Harrell and Zubac, who usually split time at center for Lops Angeles. But he definitely qualifies as a potential secret weapon given the animosity between himself and James.
Four more things to know as we count down the days to the season’s restart:
_ The MVP race and Other Individual Awards have already been decided .. sort of. It just depends on whether all the ballots are in and have been tallied, because the NBA decided that what happens in the restart will have no bearing on the awards (which includes Coach of the Year. The statistical races are all but decided, but stats from the bubble games will count toward players’ season-long totals.
_ That means that James Harden is going to win the scoring title, and it only a question of whether his scoring average will go up or down from its current level of 34.3 (Bradley Beal of Washington, who is second with an average of 30.4 points, is sitting out the restart for a severely undermanned Wizards club that also will be without John Wall and Davis Bertans.)
Harden had 31 points, eight rebounds and nine assists Sunday for the Rockets in a victory over Memphis, playing a regular workload of 35 minutes. He played only 25 minutes in the Rockets’ opener against Toronto. When coach Mike D’Antoni tried to take him out with four minutes remaining, Harden waved him off.
_ Paul George is not going to have a whole lot to say about things related to basketball, but he will surely weigh in with his thoughts on the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Louisville woman who was fatally shot by Louisville, Kentucky police on June 5 when she was the mistaken target of a drug sting.
George and other NBA players are irate that there have been no arrests of police in the case, and George has made it a point to steer all of his interviews toward the subject. Other NBA players, along with NBA coaches, have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. Moreover, the NBA has emblazoned the court in Orlando with the words Black Lives Matter.
_ The NBA restart will run through August 14, after which there could be a play-in for the No. 8 seed if the No. 9 team is within four games of the No. 8 team in the standings. The play-in structure could include even more teams if there is a logjam. Currently, the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings are all within three games of the eighth place Memphis Grizzlies.
_ It bears mentioning that the Toronto Raptors are the defending NBA champions, having defeated the Golden State Warriors last June. Yes, it has been a long time since an NBA championship trophy has been handed out, and Leonard of the Clippers remains the reigning NBA Finals MVP.
Also, the Raptors currently have the league’s longest winning streak — four games — and are coming off a second scrimmage in which Marc Gasol looked particularly thinner, having lost weight during the shutdown. He is coming off a hamstring injury and was limited to 10 minutes in his debut.