Once again on Christmas, the Lakers and the Clippers will be two the featured teams on one of the big broadcasting days for the NBA – they just won’t play each other this year.
The defending champion Lakers will take on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center, while the Clippers will head to Denver for a rematch with the Denver Nuggets team that shocked them in the playoffs last season.
The Lakers face the Mavericks at 5 p.m. PST, while the Clippers and Nuggets will air at 7:30 PST. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN, which first reported the games. The Lakers and Clippers faced off on Christmas last season at Staples Center.
Those are the first concrete games so far of a reduced 72-game regular-season schedule that is still being arranged behind the scenes. The NBA, which is tentatively scheduled to open its season on Dec. 22, is expected to announce the first half of the schedule, running through March 5, within a week. While the shortened offseason has been a logistical challenge in a process that usually takes the better part of a year, many NBA arenas have empty schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lakers-Mavericks matchup should feature three All-NBA first-team honorees from last season, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis (pending him signing an expected maximum-salary contract with the Lakers) going against Doncic, a top-four MVP finisher. Doncic and James were two of the three players in the league who averaged more than 25 points and 8 assists last season (Atlanta’s Trae Young was the other).
While forward Kristaps Porzingis is expected to be out until at least January with injury, the Lakers and Mavericks had compelling matchups last season, including a Lakers overtime win in Dallas. The Lakers had a 3-1 edge in the meetings last season. Doncic, who looked up to James as a child, is 1-5 against him in his career.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will get an early check from the Denver team that dismissed them in September, climbing back from a 3-1 deficit in their second-round series. The Nuggets boast All-NBA center Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, who was one of the strongest scorers in the bubble last postseason (26.5 ppg in the playoffs). The Clippers and Nuggets finished second and third in the Western Conference last season, respectively.
The five-game Christmas Day schedule opens with New Orleans at Miami (9 a.m. PT) and includes Golden State at Milwaukee (11:30 a.m. PT) and Brooklyn at Boston (2 p.m. PT).
The NBA season will be back in time for Christmas.
The NBA board of governors and the National Basketball Players Association have each agreed to play a reduced 72-game season starting on Dec. 22, an unprecedented short turnaround that the league hopes will help it recoup a steep dive in revenue and sync back with its traditional calendar schedule.
The agreement was first reported by The Athletic, following a vote by the league’s union representatives on Thursday evening. A source confirmed the majority agreement to Southern California News Group, which was later officially announced by the NBPA.
Under the proposal, the season would finish no later than July 22, one day before the Tokyo Olympics and well ahead of football season – two heavyweight television competitors.
The urgency of beginning a new season has picked up in recent weeks, bolstered by the grim understanding that the league stands to lose even more revenue than the estimated $1.5 billion it lost last season, hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and frayed relations with China, a key source of international viewership. The NBA hopes the loss of fans in arenas – which accounts for as much as 40 percent of the league’s revenue – will be partially offset by a push to play as many games as possible for the 2020-21 season.
NBA players will feel a hit in their paychecks from that financial slide: The league is expected to hold as much as 20 percent of player salaries in escrow for the next two seasons to account for the dip in revenue, a figure that the NBPA executive committee will settle.
The Athletic reported that the league hopes to have 25 to 50 percent of arena suites filled with fans to start the season (depending on local regulations), with the aspiration that more fans could be brought in later in the season, as access to either rapid testing or a potential COVID-19 vaccine improves.
Many important questions about the season remain unresolved, including the logistics of travel in a COVID-19 environment, what circumstances would allow teams to begin bringing in more fans, and how games could be affected by positive coronavirus test results. The conclusion to the 2019-20 season was played inside the bubble at Disney World, which led to no positive tests among on-campus residents, but which the NBA quickly determined would be unfeasible to replicate for an entire regular season.
The NBPA also agreed to a proposal from its executive committee to grow the salary cap and luxury tax by a minimum of two percent, artificially inflating figures that are traditionally determined by annual revenue. The NBPA’s executive committee and the NBA still will hammer out final details, particularly in finances.
It’s unclear if the NBA will be more lenient with teams that choose to rest their stars, especially those with shortened offseasons. The Lakers and the Miami Heat have the shortest breaks of all teams, just 72 days after spending 95 in the bubble while finishing the season. In 2019, 131 days passed between the final playoff game and the start of the next regular season.
Several Lakers, including team NBPA representative Danny Green, publicly said they expected veterans on the team to play lighter minutes or even miss games. On an episode of his show “The Shop” that aired last week, LeBron James himself joked with former president Barack Obama: “I’m cherry-picking the whole first half of the season.” It’s unclear how those comments could reflect on how the Lakers actually embrace load management strategies, given that they had one of the oldest rosters in the NBA last season and James will turn 36 in December.
The Clippers’ offseason will amount to 98 days, still shorter than usual. But while introducing the newly promoted Lue, team owner Steve Ballmer indicated that he was interested in putting his squad back on the court after a second-round exit in September.
“I’m itching, actually, to have the season get going again,” he said last month.
As the defending champions, the Lakers would likely play on opening night at Staples Center and receive their championship rings.
Fourteen months after it was declared, the Basketball Battle of L.A. is over.
The Lakers won without firing a shot. It was easier to watch the Clippers miss theirs.
Sure, it was conceivable that the Clippers wouldn’t win the NBA title, since they still haven’t been to the Western Conference Finals in 50 years of occasionally trying.
What nobody suspected is that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers’ prize signings of July 2019, would be spectators at their own demise.
The Clippers’ house of assumptions disappeared into a Florida sinkhole Tuesday. They were even more fragile in their 104-89 Game 7 loss to the remarkable Denver Nuggets than they were in Games 5 and 6, when they were blown out by a total of 47 points in the two second halves. They lost the third and fourth quarters by 17 this time.
They played without a theme, failed to finish maybe a dozen 2-footers, and accepted their fate with few bangs and no whimpers.
You can only conclude that they lost to a better team. If you are suffering major fan remorse over the fact that the Clippers won’t play the Lakers in the Western final, think how the Lakers must feel.
“We had great shots all night,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I still didn’t think we trusted each other. Denver went through stretches like that, too. But they just kept playing. You could see us trusting less and less.
“On nights like that you hope you can lean on your defense. Even though numbers say we’re a good defensive team, we just never realized that from our group.”
The Clippers looked like a team that failed to plan, which means they essentially planned to fail.
They never established a thing offensively. The Nuggets roped-a-doped Leonard and made sure they didn’t foul him. Of all the statistical wreckage, the ugliest for L.A. was the total of free throw attempts by their best players. George had one, Leonard none.
That’s far worse than combining to miss 28 of 38 field goal attempts, which they also did. Leonard had averaged 7.8 FTAs in the previous 12 playoff games.
The Clippers were down by 13 in the fourth quarter, still with time, when Leonard found Nikola Jokic, and his four fouls, guarding him. Instead of taking him to the paint, Leonard passed off to Marcus Morris, whose first-quarter touch had long deserted him.
George was even worse. After JaMychal Green’s dunk attempt ricocheted into the backcourt, George fetched it and then threw it away. It took the Clippers seven-and-a-half minutes to get their first field goal in the fourth quarter, and that was with Jokic on the bench, nursing fouls. It barely mattered: Jokic had already written a triple-double across the sky: 16 points, 22 rebounds, 13 assists.
“We just got cold,” George said. “We tried to make them make turnovers and they did a good job of playing right through that.”
Defensively the Clippers continued to double-team Jokic, and Murray raged for 25 first-half points on 11-for-17 shooting. The best passers, and indeed the best players, are too good to double-team. They’ve seen that gambit all their lives. They certainly have no trouble with the obligatory doubles the Clippers were throwing out there, with inactive hands and weak rotations. The Clippers never even made Denver consider a Plan B.
Now the Nuggets prep for the Lakers, with Game 1 on Friday. They are the first NBA team to wipe out two 3-1 deficits in the same playoff season. This was also the fourth seven-game series in their past two seasons. Jokic has earned international praise for his extraordinary passing, but he has teammates who share his wavelength. They move confidently to the sweetest spots.
The Clippers, with plenty of garbage time to hone their spin, said that was the ultimate difference.
“We need to get smarter,” Leonard said. “We need to build some chemistry. When you’ve played together for a while, they know the exact places where everybody is, and it makes it easier.”
The problem with that, of course, is that the Lakers were asked to become a supergroup just as quickly. They came together as smoothly as Blind Faith.
Rivers pointed out that Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley all missed significant time in the bubble itself, and somehow that bled into their conditioning.
“We had guys asking to come out in the middle of Game 7,” Rivers said, “and I had to do it.”
But it wasn’t the Game 7 that was promised, two Julys ago.
“This was not a championship-or-bust year,” George said before walking away. His words, at least, were shooting 50%.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — Marcus Morris Sr. and Marcus Morris Jr. were reunited in the NBA bubble on Thursday — a win before the win for the Clippers’ hard-nosed, big-hearted forward, who contributed some stellar defense and 18 points to the Clippers’ 120-97 victory over Denver in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
“It was amazing,” Morris said of being reunited with his young son and wife, Amber, who is expecting the couple’s second son at the end of the month. “That was one thing that was missing here.”
The two additional members of Morris’ family are among 30 Clippers’ family members who are expected to complete quarantine and join players in the bubble by Friday.
Morris said with his wife expecting so soon, she and their son will stay only until Tuesday — but even the short visit means a ton to the 31-year-old Philadelphian, who said he insisted they drive from their house in Boca Raton to the bubble as soon as a doctor cleared it.
“I haven’t seen them actually in three months because I was in L.A. with the team and doing my quarantine there, so I wasn’t able to see them,” Morris said. “And she’s not doing too much, just laying up. And I had to see my family.”
Before heading to the bubble, Morris spent time with his twin brother Markieff — of the Lakers — in L.A., playing video games and some one-on-one, as well as spending time with his sister-in-law and his niece, Jyzelle. In the bubble, the Morris brothers find each other for meals and conversation.
On Thursday, Morris was thrilled to have a few quality moments with his son, too. Prior to the game, Amber handed young Marcus to his dad on the court for a pregame embrace.
“Ah, man. It was special,” Morris said. “That’s my first child. I grew up without a father, so I felt like I was made for fatherhood and I enjoy it, man.”
Morris said soon after arriving in the bubble that he plans to leave for the birth of his second son.
“I have another boy coming and I think it’s a big privilege for me, other than playing this game of basketball,” he said Thursday, tipping his hat to Amber. “I’m excited, she’s a great mother. I’m the lucky one to have her.”
Doc Rivers: “My dad was a cop. I believe in good cops. We’re not trying to defund them and take all their money away. We’re trying to get them to protect us, just like they protect everybody else.” https://t.co/dRDCvKed7J
Powerful comments tonight from an emotional @DocRivers, who says #RNC2020 is just “spewing fear…we’re the ones getting killed, we’re the ones getting shot…It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.” #JacobBlakehttps://t.co/PkFsKxIsij
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — For each of Damian Lillard’s 42 points on Thursday night, the moment that might most define his utter desperation to keep the Portland Trail Blazers’ season alive came on defense.
After missing a shot, Lillard attacked on defense as the Brooklyn Nets brought the ball up court. He dove for the deflection and managed to find C.J. McCollum for a short jumper with 53 seconds left.
That tiny bit of defense in a track meet turned out to produce the game-winning points in a 134-133 victory for Portland, won by the slimmest of margins. A sieve-like Portland defense had to wait and watch Caris LeVert’s last-second game-winning attempt fly overhead … before bouncing off the rim.
The win assured the Trail Blazers the eighth spot in Saturday’s play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies. They only need to beat the banged-up Grizzlies once (Memphis needs to beat them twice) to advance to a first-round date with the Lakers in the 1 vs. 8 series that begins Tuesday night.
After the game, Lillard hinged over and rested his hands on his knees.
“(Expletive), I was tired,” he said wearily. “I played the whole second half. I was like, ‘Please miss, please get the rebound.’ ”
The Lakers have winning records this season against both of their potential opponents. They went 2-1 against Memphis and 2-1 against Portland. But they haven’t taken the court against those teams in the restart, which they’ve largely agreed is closer to a new season than a continuation of the 2019-20 campaign.
Lillard has been the star of the “new” season, leading the bubble in scoring and notching 154 points in Portland’s last three games, all wins. Said Coach Terry Stotts: “And we needed every one of them.”
LeVert’s shot had a more profound effect on a team that could only watch: The Phoenix Suns, who had morphed into the feel-good team of the bubble, were swept out of contention.
The bubble’s seeming team of destiny did all it could to be in the playoff picture. With a 128-102 win over the Dallas Mavericks, they finished a perfect 8-0 in the bubble to climb to the cusp from 13th place, six games back when the season went on hiatus. Devin Booker scored 25 points and the Suns shot 41 percent from 3-point range.
Their game took place in AdventHealth Arena, the same venue the Nets and Trail Blazers played in afterward. As the Nets headed to the locker room, the Phoenix players cheered their arrival and asked them to win one to complete their Cinderella journey.
“I’m proud of this group regardless,” Booker said. “We could have had a different approach to this bubble, to this opportunity. But we didn’t. We stayed locked in.”
The Grizzlies saved their best for last and saved their season in the process. They pounded the Milwaukee Bucks, 119-106, leading by double digits the entire second half. Milwaukee was without Giannis Antetokounmpo due to a suspension for a headbutt, but every other key player put in respectable minutes.
Still they could not contain Jonas Valancius (26 points, 19 rebounds, 12 assists) and Ja Morant (12 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists), who became the first teammates in Memphis franchise history to record triple-doubles in the same game. Dillon Brooks led Memphis with 31 points, carving up Milwaukee’s vaunted defense with midrange and long-range shooting.
It came just at the right time. The Grizzlies had to win to be in the play-in game after squandering their entire three-game lead by losing six of their first seven games. First-year coach Taylor Jenkins topped mentor Mike Budenholzer, and was plenty relieved about it.
“That’s the resiliency, that’s what we talk about so much with this group,” he said. “They were the first ones to say today, ‘Why did we wait until Game 8 to start playing Grizzlies basketball?’ ”
The Grizzlies did not allow themselves much celebration on the court as time ran out, but after several quiet minutes, shouting and whooping could be heard from their locker room.
The team decided the game ball should go to Valanciunas, whose previous career-high assist mark was five. He told Southern California New Group that he couldn’t recall recording a triple-double at any level of basketball.
“That was my first triple-double, so definitely going to keep that ball for a long time,” he said. “Show my kids that daddy did it.”
At the bottom of the race, one of the NBA’s most hallowed streaks finally ended. After 22 straight years in the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs were eliminated before they even lost to the Utah Jazz on Thursday afternoon. Gregg Popovich, 71, will miss the postseason for just the second time in his career, winning five championships in the intervening years.
But the often hard-edged coach showed a shade of grace in his quiet exit, hastened by losing LaMarcus Aldridge during the hiatus to season-ending surgery and finalized by the Blazers’ and Suns’ hot streaks. For a dynasty that was built on Hall of Fame careers from David Robinson to Tim Duncan, Popovich let the ending pass quietly.
“Looking at the past doesn’t do much good,” Popovich told reporters. “Any success we’ve had has been because we’ve had some great players.”
There’s been speculation that Popovich may have coached his last season. The oldest active NBA head coach also leads USA Basketball, which could have its hands full next year with the delayed Olympics. When a reporter attempted to ask if his retirement was imminent, Popovich flashed back to his old self.
Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert, left, battles for the ball with Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, right, in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers kneel during the national anthem before an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
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Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen (31) and Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) go up for the opening tip of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (31) shoots over Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Harris (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) is defended by Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen (31) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Harris (12) shoots against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams, left, and Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert (22) chase the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen (31) dunks the ball against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert (22) is defended by Los Angeles Clippers forward JaMychal Green (4) and guard Lou Williams (23) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Los Angeles Clippers guard Rodney McGruder (19) dribbles against Brooklyn Nets forward Rodions Kurucs (00) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Los Angeles Clippers guard Rodney McGruder (19) shoots against the Brooklyn Nets in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert (22) dribbles the ball against Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers looks on against the Brooklyn Nets in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Harris (left) is knocked down by Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Brooklyn Nets guard Chris Chiozza (4) shoots against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Brooklyn Nets forward Rodions Kurucs (00) dunks next to Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dribbles the ball past Brooklyn Nets forward Rodions Kurucs (00) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Brooklyn Nets forward Rodions Kurucs (00) dunks next to Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert (22) dribbles the ball while defended by Los Angeles Clippers guard Landry Shamet (20) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
The Clippers’ priorities entering their final seeding games in the bubble are clear, Coach Doc Rivers said, first comes rhythm and rest, and then comes winning.
The rhythm was chaotic to start Sunday, Kawhi Leonard didn’t get much rest throughout, and, in the end, Brooklyn won 129-120. The Nets fended off a shorthanded Clippers squad whose search for continuity continues in this latter chapter of an interrupted season.
In what was the sixth of eight seeding games for both teams Sunday, the Nets (34-36) built a big buffer early, bolting to a 45-24 lead at the end of the opening period, the second-highest scoring first quarter in their franchise’s history.
The Clippers (47-23) kept coming, though, shrinking a 21-point lead to 10 before heading into the half trailing, 74-63.
And then a motivated Leonard cleaned up the whole mess.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP single-handedly outscored the Nets 11-0 to start the third quarter and tied the game 74-74 in the process.
“We definitely got to be in a better rhythm,” Leonard said after the game, via Zoom. “Guys have been in and out of the lineup, key guys. Still waiting on Trezz (Montrezl Harrell) to get back, you know what I mean?”
Rivers said that though there was nothing he could report regarding Harrell’s plans to rejoin the team following the death of his grandmother, he offered, “We hope so. That’s all I can say.”
Without Harrell, as well as star forward Paul George (rest) and Patrick Beverley (sore calf), Leonard kept the Clippers in it, though they only ever pulled even and not in front.
After resting in Saturday’s substitute-fueled victory over Portland, Leonard played 37 minutes Sunday and finished with 39 points, six assists and four steals. He shot 14 of 25 (56.0%) from the field.
“Kawhi was fresh,” Rivers said. “I mean, he felt great.”
In his 1,000th career regular-season game, Lou Williams looked as spry as he has in any game in the bubble, coming off the bench for 18 points in 23 minutes. Marcus Morris Sr. continued his positive momentum from the two games prior with a 15-point effort on 6-of-9 shooting. And rookie guard Terance Mann scored a career-high 14 points in the loss.
Ivica Zubac, the Clippers’ 23-year-old 7-footer, continued his bubble flexing: In 24 minutes, he scored eight points and pulled down a career-high-tying 15 rebounds — the fourth consecutive game he grabbed at 10 rebounds or more, also a career milestone.
Despite those efforts, the Clippers took a step back.
And with the playoffs scheduled to tip off July 17 and their second seed precariously in the balance, that’s not ideal, Rivers said.
“Hopefully we won’t play up and down in the playoffs,” he said. “We definitely have been so far. We have one inspired game, then we don’t.
“Give Brooklyn credit,” he added. “They attacked us. They were clearly the team that had the right approach at the beginning of the game. When you spot someone 20 points, it’s hard to come back from that.”
In that bombastic opening half, the Nets’ and Joe Harris (23 points — a first-half career high) and Carris LeVert (21) combined to account for 44 points on 18 for 22 shooting. Brooklyn shot 67.4% (29 for 43) and 52.0% (13 for 25) from 3-point range.
Fortunately for the Clippers — who were on the back end of a back-to-back pair of contests — their offensive engine was revved too. Led by Leonard — who finished the first half with 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting — they shot 53.3% (24 for 45) in the first 24 minutes.
The second half was a different story: Harris scored only two points after the break, and the Nets scored a more pedestrian 55 points and shot 42.9% (18 for 42). The Clippers posted 57 second-half points and shot 43.8% (21 for 48). Still, by eclipsing 120 points for the 31st time this season, they equaled a franchise best.