TJ Warren admitted he had "one of those special nights" as his career-best 53 points led the Indiana Pacers past the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 26-year-old, who had never previously scored more than 40 points in his six-year NBA career, had the hot hand in Orlando, pouring in nine three-pointers to tie a franchise record.

Only three other players had previously scored 50-plus points for the Pacers - Reggie Miller, Jermaine O'Neal and Billy Knight - as Warren made the most of an opportunity afforded to him by some Indiana injuries.

"I play a lot of basketball. When I'm at home with my friends, when I'm playing pickup games, anywhere," Warren said, in quotes reported by ESPN.

"I'm just born to be a hooper so just me coming out here, just playing the way I play and playing my game, being aggressive.

"It doesn't matter the environment, you've just got to come with it every game. Every game I feel anxious and nervous at the same time but it's full of excitement. Tonight was one of those special nights."

While Warren's performance may have raised eyebrows for many outside the Pacers organisation, his team-mates felt such a display was in keeping with the man they see in practice.

"TJ Warren [has] been scoring his whole life. Since his AAU days to NC State," Victor Oladipo added.

"He's been a scorer since as long as I've known him. I've known him for a long time.

"Getting to know him, playing here, he was born to get buckets so it's no surprise to any of us that he was able to do what he did.

"It's great to have him on our team. It was amazing to watch and we're all happy for him. That was incredible. Things like that don't happen often."

Defending NBA champions the Toronto Raptors were too good for the Los Angeles Lakers, winning 107-92 in Orlando on Saturday.

Kyle Lowry posted 33 points and 14 rebounds and team-mate OG Anunoby scored 23 points as the Raptors claimed their 11th consecutive victory over the Lakers.

The Raptors – second in the Eastern Conference behind the Milwaukee Bucks – have not lost to the Lakers since 2014-15.

LeBron James' double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds was not enough for Western Conference leaders the Lakers, who are 1-1 since the restart at Walt Disney World Resort.

After scoring 34 points in the Lakers' return, Anthony Davis managed just 14 against the Raptors as the Los Angeles franchise remain one win away from clinching the top seed in the west.

TJ Warren, meanwhile, had a career-high 53 points as the Indiana Pacers resumed their season with a 127-121 win against Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers.

Warren was 20 of 29 from the field and nine of 12 from three-point range in his first game with at least 50 points.

The Pacers (40-26) and 76ers (39-27) had shared identical records prior to Saturday's encounter, but Indiana broke a tie to take control of the Eastern Conference's fifth seed.

 

George stars from beyond the arc

Paul George led the way as the Los Angeles Clippers outclassed the New Orleans Pelicans 126-103. George made eight of 11 three-pointers in a 28-point performance. The All-Star shot three straight from beyond the arc in the opening minutes to set the tone. The Clippers broke the franchise record by making 25 of 47 threes. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also moved 11th on the NBA's career list for wins after celebrating his 939th victory.

Joel Embiid became the first 76ers player with multiple 40-plus point, 20-plus rebound-games since Charles Barkley. The All-Star finished with 41 points and 21 rebounds against the Pacers.

 

Mitchell struggles as Jazz lose

Donovan Mitchell (13 points) was just five for 15 in the Utah Jazz's 110-94 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The two teams were meant to meet on March 11 before Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus prior to tip-off. The Jazz shot just 39 per cent from the field.

 

LeBron with the layup

While the Lakers lost, James still provided a number of highlights, including this run to the rim.

 

Saturday's results

Miami Heat 125-105 Denver Nuggets
Oklahoma City Thunder 110-94 Utah Jazz
Los Angeles Clippers 126-103 New Orleans Pelicans
Indiana Pacers 127-121 Philadelphia 76ers
Toronto Raptors 107-92 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Bucks at Rockets

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks (54-12) face the Houston Rockets (41-24) on Sunday. Both teams are coming off wins after the restart.

The NBA finally returns on Thursday and it's been a long-time coming.

Not since March 11 have players taken to the court and fans watched official games due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But, after months of waiting, the New Orleans Pelicans-Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers clashes will headline the 2019-20 season restart in Orlando, Florida.

Inside the Walt Disney World Resort bubble, 22 teams will resume their regular seasons before the playoffs.

The Milwaukee Bucks topped the NBA standings at the time of the postponement, while the Los Angeles Lakers were flying in the Western Conference.

Using STATS data, we look at the best-performing players prior to the hiatus as LeBron James eyes a fourth championship ring and Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo chases a maiden title.

 

Red-hot LeBron

After a tough first season in Los Angeles, James has returned to his brilliant best in 2019-20. Before the coronavirus-enforced break, the four-time MVP catapulted himself into the mix for a fifth Most Valuable Player honour by leading the Lakers – who have played 63 of their 82-game regular season – to a Western Conference-best 49-14 record.

As the 35-year-old superstar prepares to resume his bid for another NBA crown, James leads the league in assists per game with 10.6. If he maintains his pace, James would be the third-oldest player to lead the NBA in assists per game behind two-time MVP and Phoenix Suns great Steve Nash – who did so in both 2009-10 (age 35-36) and 2010-11 (age 36-37). The former Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers forward has also been averaging 25.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season.

James, whose maiden campaign at Staples Center was cut short by a Christmas Day injury almost two years ago, was playing some of his best basketball alongside All-Star recruit Anthony Davis before the March suspension. In five games that month, James averaged 30.0 points and 10.6 assists per game, while shooting 55.7 per cent from the field. It is the only time in the last 30 years that any NBA player has averaged 30.0-plus points and 10.0-plus assists on 55.0-plus per cent shooting in a calendar month (minimum five games played).

 

Giannis – The Greek Freak

The Eastern Conference-leading Bucks (53-12) are on track for their first NBA title since 1971 thanks to superstar MVP Antetokounmpo after Mike Budenholzer's side lost in the Conference Finals last season.

Antetokounmpo – expected to go close to winning back-to-back MVPs – has not taken a backward step since being crowned the league's best in 2018-19, averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game for the high-flying Bucks this season.

The only players to average 25/13/5 in a season are Elgin Baylor (1960-61), Wilt Chamberlain (1963-64 and 1965-66) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972-73 and 1975-76).

 

Harden firing Rockets

James Harden's standing among the greats is often debated but there is no doubting his quality and importance to the Houston Rockets.

Harden has established himself as a scoring machine in Houston since joining the Rockets from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012, especially from beyond the arc, and after averaging 36.1 points last season, the 2018 MVP is at it again.

In 2019-20, Harden – now partnered with fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook – is averaging 34.4 per game. The only players to average 34-plus points in back-to-back seasons are Wilt Chamberlain (six straight from 1959-60 to 1964-65), Baylor (three straight from 1960-61 to 1962-63) and Michael Jordan (1986-87 to 1987-88).

The Rockets – sixth in the west with a 40-24 record – are relying heavily on Harden to lead the two-time champions to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1995.

 

Dallas' dazzling Doncic

If you thought Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic was a one-season wonder, think again.

The reigning Rookie of the Year continues to take the NBA by storm, elevating the Mavericks (40-27) into a legitimate playoff threat after Dallas missed the postseason for a third consecutive year last term.

A first-time All-Star this season, Doncic is averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game for the much-improved Mavs in 2019-20.

The 21-year-old Slovenian sensation – who is forming a formidable combination with fellow international star Kristaps Porzingis – is looking to join Oscar Robertson (five times), Jordan (1988-89), Harden (2016-17) and Westbrook (2016-17) as the only players to average 28/8/8 in a season.

 

Williamson following in MJ's footsteps

When it comes to number one draft pick Zion Williamson, believe the hype.

The Pelicans rookie has not missed a beat since debuting in January, quickly making his presence known around the NBA competition.

Likened to James during his college days with Duke, Williamson has averaged 23.6 points per game in his first 19 games – the most by any player through 19 career games since Chicago Bulls and NBA legend Jordan (25.6).

Williamson has helped fill the void left by Davis in New Orleans and the Pelicans – 10th in the Western Conference with a 28-36 record – will be hoping the 20-year-old can lead the organisation to just their second playoff appearance in five seasons.

 

Keep an eye on Nets' LeVert

The Nets will be far from full strength in the NBA bubble. Superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are both sidelined through injury, while DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Wilson Chandler and Taurean Prince have opted out.

Step up Caris LeVert.

LeVert has been much improved since re-joining the starting line-up with the playoff-chasing Nets. In his first 14 games off the bench, he was only averaging 11.1 points, 2.7 assists and 2.6 rebounds as Brooklyn went 5-9.

Since returning to the starting five, the 25-year-old is averaging 24.1 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds through his last 16 games. More importantly, the Nets (30-34) boasted a 9-7 record to be seventh in a congested Eastern Conference.

Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo is yet to decide if he will play when the NBA returns next week, despite featuring in the team's first scrimmage on Thursday.

Oladipo is considering a U-turn on his decision to sit out the remainder of the NBA season, which will resume on July 30 after it was forced to be postponed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The two-time All-Star, who is working his way back from a ruptured quadriceps tendon suffered in January 2019, announced on July 3 that he was opting out of the campaign in Orlando, Florida before conceding he may change his mind last week.

Oladipo started in Indiana's 91-88 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Walt Disney Resort, where he scored eight points on three-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes.

However, Oladipo's status ahead of Indiana's return against Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers on August 1 remains undecided.

"I think today was big, just getting our conditioning up and getting a feel for the game again," Oladipo said. "Obviously it's been a minute since all of us have played in a live game. It was just fun to be out there."

Oladipo added: "My body and mind just have to get used to the flow of the game again. That'll come. But overall I felt pretty decent."

"I think you've just got to know if you're OK or not, at the end of the day," Oladipo said. "This is obviously a unique situation, it's a unique injury for myself. I don't think it's me not thinking I can do it; I know my body better than anyone else. I know what I'm feeling. No one else knows what I'm feeling.

"Even though it might look good to you, or to whoever that's looking at me, I hold myself to a different standard, so the abilities that I'm used doing, you've never done it before. Ain't none of y'all have. You understand?

"So for me, I'm trying to get back to that, you understand, trying to get back to that feeling, trying to get back to make sure my knee, myself is 100 per cent so I can go and perform at the highest level that you guys are used to seeing me at. That's what it's all about."

Less than two weeks ago, Indiana Pacers star guard Victor Oladipo said he would sit out the NBA's restart in order to rehab his surgically repaired right knee. 

However, on Wednesday the two-time All-Star conceded he may be changing his mind after practicing with his teammates in Orlando, Florida. 

''It was hard for me to assess where I was,'' Oladipo said on a conference call. ''But being able to come down here and practice with my guys at a high level, I think there's a strong possibility that I might play. I want to be smart because I want to play the next 10 years.'' 

Oladipo is working his way back from a ruptured quadriceps tendon suffered in January 2019, which sidelined him for 12 months.

He returned this January, and appeared in just 13 games, averaging 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting a career-worst 39.1 percent before the season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Citing his injury history, Oladipo announced on July 3 he was opting out for the remainder of the season.

Last week, he then informed the Pacers he would join the team in the bubble at Disney World and practice with the team, but not play.

But that plan appears to be changing.

''I was always going to come down here and test it out,'' he said. ''When I made my decision, I wasn't able to play five-on-five, wasn't able to get up and down the floor and wasn't able to do things at a high level, so I didn't think I would be able to play.

"But after coming down here and working with the guys, rebounding, running and jumping, I'm trending in a positive direction. So hopefully when it's time to play, I can play.'' 

The first of Indiana’s eight seeding games before the playoffs is on August 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

The Pacers are fifth in the Eastern Conference at 39-26, and if Oladipo decides to play when the season resumes, he would be the second starter to return to the team with Malcolm Brogdon deeming himself healthy following a hip injury sustained on March 4, as well as being cleared from coronavirus. 

"I know what I'm capable of," Oladipo said. "I know what standard I have to get to. I know how my body needs to feel in order to perform at the level that I'm capable of performing." 

The NBA announced the schedule for scrimmage games to take place before the season restarts following the coronavirus-enforced break.

Basketball came to a halt in the United States and Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, but the 2019-20 NBA campaign is set to resume on July 30.

Orlando's Disney World complex will host 22 teams, with the Los Angeles Lakers headlining the league's comeback against rivals the Los Angeles Clippers on July 30 after the New Orleans Pelicans face the Utah Jazz on the same day.

Prior to the NBA returning, all 22 teams in Orlando will play three inter-squad scrimmages between July 22 and July 28.

Kawhi Leonard's Clippers will play the Orlando Magic on July 22, with the Washington Wizards-Denver Nuggets, Pelicans-Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings-Miami Heat scrimmages also taking place that day.

The Milwaukee Bucks led the NBA with a 53-12 record prior to the coronavirus crisis, ahead of the Lakers (49-14), defending champions the Toronto Raptors (46-18) and Clippers.

 

Scrimmage schedule:

Wednesday, July 22

Orlando Magic v Los Angeles Clippers
Washington Wizards v Denver Nuggets
New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets
Sacramento Kings v Miami Heat

Thursday, July 23

San Antonio Spurs v Milwaukee Bucks
Portland Trail Blazers v Indiana Pacers
Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers
Phoenix Suns v Utah Jazz

Friday, July 24

Memphis Grizzlies v Philadelphia 76ers
Oklahoma City Thunder v Boston Celtics
Houston Rockets v Toronto Raptors

Saturday, July 25

Los Angeles Lakers v Orlando Magic
Milwaukee Bucks v Sacramento Kings
Miami Heat v Utah Jazz
Brooklyn Nets v San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers v Washington Wizards
Denver Nuggets v New Orleans Pelicans

Sunday, July 26

Philadelphia 76ers v Oklahoma City Thunder
Phoenix Suns v Boston Celtics
Indiana Pacers v Dallas Mavericks
Portland Trail Blazers v Toronto Raptors
Houston Rockets v Memphis Grizzlies

Monday, July 27

Washington Wizards v Los Angeles Lakers
Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Clippers
Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
Orlando Magic v Denver Nuggets
New Orleans Pelicans v Milwaukee Bucks

Tuesdays, July 28 

Memphis Grizzlies v Miami Heat
Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns
San Antonio Spurs v Indiana Pacers
Oklahoma City Thunder v Portland Trail Blazers
Boston Celtics v Houston Rockets
Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers

Star guard Victor Oladipo has chosen not to join the Indiana Pacers for the restart of the 2019-20 NBA season in Orlando, Florida, saying that he would not be comfortable playing.  

Oladipo announced his decision on Friday in an article with The Athletic.  

The two-time All-Star – who has played just 13 games this season after taking the floor only 36 times in 2018-19 – cited his lengthy injury history when explaining why he has opted out of the rest of the season.  

"I feel like I'm at a great place in my rehab and getting closer and closer to 100 percent," Oladipo said. 

"With all the variables, from how I have to build my 5-on-5 workload back up, to the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab, and the unknown exact set up of the bubble, I just can't get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing." 

The Pacers are fifth in the Eastern Conference at 39-26 this season as they prepare for the NBA's 22-team plan to finish the 2019-20 season in Orlando starting on July 30. 

The first of Indiana's eight seeding games is on August 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers.  

The team is also without guard Jeremy Lamb, who tore the ACL in his left knee in February.  

"I really want to play, and as a competitor and team-mate this is tearing me apart," Oladipo said. 

"I have to be smart and this decision hasn't been easy, but I truly believe continuing the course I'm on and getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me." 

The second overall pick in the 2013 draft, Oladipo's best season was his first with the Pacers, averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals over 75 games in 2017-18.  

It looked as if Oladipo had finally blossomed into a player worthy of his draft slot but rupturing tendons in his quadriceps twice has prevented the 28-year-old from making consistent contributions over the last two seasons.  

Oladipo joins a growing list of players who have opted out of the restart, including Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans, Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley and Portland Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza.  

Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon said he tested positive for coronavirus in a statement released on Wednesday. 

In his first season with the Pacers after arriving from the Milwaukee Bucks, the 27-year-old is averaging 16.3 points and a team-high 7.1 assists in 48 games. 

"I recently tested positive for the Covid virus and am currently in quarantine," he said in a statement.

"I'm doing well, feeling well and progressing well. I plan to join my team-mates in Orlando for the resumption of the NBA season and playoffs." 

Brogdon was poised to play upon the season's resumption having recovered from leg and hip injuries that sidelined him for Indiana's final three games before the NBA season was halted.

The Pacers (39-26) were in control of the Eastern Conference's fifth seed when the season went on pause on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They will be one of the 22 NBA teams set for the restart at the bubble at Walt Disney World in July.

A trip to Orlando, Florida is overwhelmingly a more popular travel destination than Milwaukee, Wisconsin for most American families.

NBA teams share that sentiment.

The NBA has approved its return-to-play plan, which will send 22 teams to the Walt Disney Resort near Orlando. All the games and practices will take place at the Disney complex after the NBA's Board of Governors approved proposals for a restart from the coronavirus-enforced break.

The teams invited to Florida are the 16 that held playoff spots when the season was halted on March 11, plus the six teams within six games of eighth place in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

While having all the games at one location terminates travel and should cut down on some fatigue, it will provide a new challenge – likely playing games in empty gyms without the noise of the crowd.

A lack of crowd noise may be the biggest obstacle for the players, challenging their mettle. They will have to take part in crucial games and within these games, face critical possessions without getting any adrenaline rush from either the roar of the fans they would experience at their home arena or the chorus of boos from a hostile crowd when they are on the road.

For the teams, they are now pretty much all on equal footing. Those that had been dominating for the right to earn home-court advantage for the playoffs no longer have such an advantage.

When the season went on pause nearly three months ago, the Milwaukee Bucks owned the NBA's best record at 53-12. The Bucks are obviously an excellent team, boasting the league's highest-scoring offense behind reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but some of their success stems from their ability to easily dispatch of foes when they visited Milwaukee.

The Bucks have only lost two of their 30 games at Fiserv Forum since the calendar flipped to November. And both of those defeats came at the hands of West clubs – the Dallas Mavericks on December 16 and Denver Nuggets on January 31. They have gone 18-1 in Milwaukee against the East this season with the lone blemish coming in overtime to the Miami Heat in their home opener on October 26.

By continuing to defend home court against East teams, the Bucks appeared to have a relatively clear path to reach the NBA Finals, but now their opponents will no longer be making that dreaded trip to Milwaukee. 

Miami, meanwhile, is a hotter destination than Milwaukee – both literally and figuratively – and the Heat climbed to the top of the Southeast Division behind the strength of a 27-5 record in Miami – the third-best home record in the NBA.

The Heat, however, no longer will have the luxury of welcoming visitors to South Beach and its nightlife, instead playing the rest of their games in the more family-friendly environment provided by Mickey Mouse.

Only one team has compiled a better home record than the Bucks and Heat this season, and that has been perhaps one of the most perplexing teams of all time.

The Philadelphia 76ers have gone 29-2 at home, but if the playoffs started today they would not be hosting a first-round series. Thanks to an inability to win on the road where they have gone 10-24, the Sixers are in sixth place in the East. 

Philly has a .935 winning percentage at home and a .294 winning percentage on the road. That decrease of .641 in winning percentage from home to road is the largest difference since the NBA expanded to 14 teams in 1968-69. 

Seeing as there has been no rational explanation as to how a team can play so well at home and so poorly on the road, it is anyone's guess how the Sixers will fare in Orlando.

While teams will be missing out on having games at their own arenas and players will no longer have the creature comforts that come with home games, a handful of teams that are heading to Orlando had slightly better records on the road than at home before the season paused.

Playing these games on neutral courts, likely without fans, in Orlando does not exactly correlate to playing road games in intense visiting arenas in front of raucous playoff crowds, but the Dallas Mavericks (plus-.077 winning percentage from road to home games), Los Angeles Lakers (plus-.071), New Orleans Pelicans (plus-.063), Phoenix Suns (plus-.062) and Oklahoma City Thunder (plus-.039) all have higher winning percentages on the road than at home.

Of those five teams, only the Mavericks, Lakers and Thunder posted winning records both on the road and at home. 

When the season went on pause, the only teams with road winning percentages over .700 were perhaps the three favourites to win the title – the Lakers (.813 road winning percentage), the Bucks (.735) and defending champions the Toronto Raptors (.719). 

No big surprise, but the ability to win on the road and perform under pressure in adverse conditions bodes well for a team's championship aspirations. 

While these will not be road games, they will certainly be adverse conditions. Likely the most obscure these players have ever experienced.

After a gruelling 82-game regular season, April is usually an exciting time for NBA players and fans.

This time of year is typically headlined by playoff basketball, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought the NBA and sport to a standstill globally.

The NBA has been suspended since March 11 – halting the regular season and putting the playoffs on ice amid COVID-19 as the high-flying Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers vie for supremacy.

 

As the NBA waits for the threat of COVID-19 to subside, and for normal life to return, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers behind the scenes.

Having simulated the rest of the regular season to produce projected final standings, the goal was to see how the postseason would pan out too.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusts it for each team's pace. In addition, the home team gets a slight boost for home-court advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs. So, here are the results…

 

BUCKS, LAKERS CRUISE INTO SECOND ROUND

Like last season, the Bucks earned the best regular-season record heading into the postseason. Milwaukee swept the Detroit Pistons in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2019 and the Bucks match that feat this year, albeit against the Orlando Magic. After one-point wins in the first two games, Milwaukee cruise into the Conference semi-finals – winning 112-106 and 113-93.

Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13, Western Conference pacesetters the Lakers blitz the Memphis Grizzlies 4-0 – highlighted by a 118-89 blowout in Game 2. The Los Angeles Clippers faded at the end of the regular season as they dropped down into the fourth seed, but the Lakers' neighbours prove too good for the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook had one foot in the second round but the Houston Rockets – who ended the regular season on a 15-3 run to claim the third seed – lose four straight games to the Utah Jazz in the west. Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks – back in the playoffs following a three-season absence – win three games in a row to take down the second-seeded Denver Nuggets 4-2.

For the second time in three years, the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat meet in the east's first round and the latter prevail 4-2 as Jimmy Butler has the last laugh against his former team. The Boston Celtics also see off the Indiana Pacers by the same scoreline.

No Kawhi Leonard, no worries for defending champions the Toronto Raptors, who only drop one game in a comprehensive 4-1 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

LEBRON MATCHES EARLIEST PLAYOFF EXIT

Hopes were high for LeBron James but the Lakers are upstaged by cross-town rivals the Clippers in six games. The Lakers level the series at 2-2 but the Clippers reel off back-to-back victories in a matchup where the margin does not drop below 10 points. It equals the earliest exit of James' playoff career, having reached the Finals in each of his past eight trips to the postseason.

Staying in the Western Conference and the Mavericks advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2011 – when they won the title – by rallying past the Utah Jazz. After dropping the first two games, Dallas win four on the bounce. The Mavericks' run, however, ends at the hands of the Clippers just shy of the NBA Finals, edged 4-3.

The Bucks fell short of a trip to the big dance last season, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee get the job done this time around by topping the Heat and Raptors in the east. A 130-96 Game 1 rout sets the tone for the Bucks, who beat Miami inside six games.

The Raptors are no match for the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, losing 4-1. Toronto's exit snaps a streak of four straight seasons in which the defending champions returned to the Finals the following year. The last team to win the title and then not reach the showpiece series the following season were the San Antonio Spurs, who claimed the championship in 2014.

 

CLIPPERS MAKE HISTORY BUT FALL TO BUCKS

It is a landmark moment for the Clippers, who feature in the NBA Finals for the first time in their history. In the four major US sports – NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL – the Clippers are the oldest franchise that have never progressed to the championship round, having played their first NBA game in 1970.

However, the Bucks spoil the party as they end the longest title drought in the NBA courtesy of a 4-2 triumph on the biggest stage. The Golden State Warriors held the record for the longest gap between championships – 40 years – but Milwaukee reign supreme for the first time since 1971, ending their 49-year wait.

Milwaukee and Los Angeles split the opening two games before the Bucks win two on the bounce to eventually claim a second NBA crown. Milwaukee's success also continues a common theme in the league, with five of the past eight champions having boasted the best regular-season record and won the title in the same year.

Now is typically the time when the grind of the NBA's regular season is winding down and 16 teams start to gear up for the playoffs.

However, the coronavirus pandemic brought the league to a halt in March, delaying the best period of the campaign considerably.

With every team having at least 15 games left to play, the postseason picture is far from being completed.

The Los Angeles Lakers are the only team in the Western Conference to have secured their place in the playoffs, where the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics are also guaranteed to feature due to their performances in the East.

With only the Golden State Warriors out of contention, 25 teams still have a mathematical chance of keeping their seasons alive.

 

As the NBA waits for the threat of COVID-19 to subside, and for normal life to return, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers behind the scenes.

The goal was to simulate how the regular season would pan out if all outstanding games were played now, producing the final standings in both conferences.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusts it for each team's pace. In addition, the home team gets a slight boost for home-field advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The victors get another win to their season total – this was done for every remaining game in the regular season. So, without further ado, let's find out the results...

 

NO BUCKING THE TREND

Unsurprisingly the Bucks hang on to the one seed in the Eastern Conference, with our model predicting they will go 13-4 in their remaining fixtures to finish with a 66-16 record.

Despite Milwaukee matching their best regular-season performance in history to book a first-round clash in the playoffs with the Orlando Magic, there was one hiccup for reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his team-mates – a shock 111-110 loss at the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the only change to the top eight from the current standings, the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Indiana Pacers to the five seed, meaning they draw the Miami Heat in the first round of the postseason for the second time in three years. The Pacers must take on the Celtics as a consequence.

The Brooklyn Nets (39-43) and Magic (38-44) advance despite having losing records – it is the first time since 1988 that more than one team under .500 made the playoffs. The Raptors await the Nets in the first round.

At the foot of the East is the Detroit Pistons, who closed out the season on a 4-12 run to finish with a 24-58 record.

In our simulation the Raptors claimed a 152-96 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Only 12 matches in NBA history have seen a bigger margin of victory.

CLIPPERS FADE, WARRIORS THE WORST

The Lakers hold off the competition to top the Western Conference and at 64-18 claim their best record since the Kobe Bryant era. Their reward is a first-round meeting with the Memphis Grizzlies.

For the Los Angeles Clippers it is a different story. They fall victim to strong finishes from the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets and slip to fourth, pitting Paul George - and Chris Paul - against his former team the Oklahoma City Thunder in round one.

The Nuggets take second and get the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs after losing just one of their final 17 games, while the Rockets go 15-3 to get the three seed. Awaiting Mike D'Antoni's team in the postseason is the Utah Jazz, who slipped to sixth after going 8-10 down the stretch.

The Grizzlies ensure New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson's first playoff appearance will have to wait until 2021 at the earliest, while the Portland Trail Blazers miss the postseason for the first time since 2013.

A 22-60 record means the Warriors finish the regular season with the worst record in the NBA.

 

GLIMMER OF HOPE FOR SUNS, WIZARDS

While the final standings were taken from the first simulation, the outcome of the regular season was simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in the playoffs.

The resulting data suggests the Grizzlies defied the odds by reaching the postseason, having only done so in 41.1 per cent of the simulations.

The Magic and Nets both had a success rate above 99 per cent, while the Washington Wizards (0.05 per cent) and the Phoenix Suns (0.04 per cent) are the biggest outsiders.

In addition to the Warriors, the model did not project the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls, Hawks or Cavaliers making the postseason once.

A NEW DYNASTY?

The Stats Perform AI team also used the predicted final standings to simulate the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery to find out which team received the first overall pick.

There was finally some good news for Warriors fans, with Golden State drawn first.

With Stephen Curry back from injury and Klay Thompson set to return next season, the No.1 pick would put Steve Kerr's team in a good position to challenge in the playoffs again.

The Hawks jump up to third in our simulation, while the Bulls have to settle for the seventh pick for the fourth consecutive year.

After taking Williamson first overall in 2019, the Pelicans get the final lottery selection here.

Full lottery results:

1. Golden State Warriors
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Atlanta Hawks
4. Detroit Pistons
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
6. New York Knicks
7. Chicago Bulls
8. Charlotte Hornets
9. Phoenix Suns
10. San Antonio Spurs
11. Sacramento Kings
12. Washington Wizards
13. Portland Trail Blazers
14. New Orleans Pelicans

Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Andrew Drummond reached the quarter-finals of the NBA 2K20 charity tournament on Sunday.

With the NBA postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, a charity tournament has been put together to raise money in support of COVID-19 relief efforts.

Winner of the single-elimination Xbox One tournament will receive $100,000 to give to charity, and Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant – the top seed – was a high-profile casualty on Friday.

Fifth seed Booker defeated Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets 85-75 in the opening round, while sixth seed Drummond crushed former Golden State Warriors center DaMarcus Cousins 101-49.

Rui Hachimura of the Washington Wizards topped Utah Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell 74-71 and Los Angeles Clippers center Montrezl Harrell eased past Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis 73-51.

The quarters are now set, with Harrell to meet Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr., who stunned Durant on Friday.

Booker will play Hachimura, Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young takes on Suns center Deandre Ayton and Drummond goes head-to-head against Clippers guard Patrick Beverley.

The tournament – being aired on ESPN – will continue on Tuesday and conclude on Saturday.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant will lead a field of 16 in an NBA 2K20 charity tournament to raise money amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With the NBA postponed due to COVID-19, players have time on their hands, so a select group will go head-to-head in the virtual world, starting Friday on ESPN.

The winner of the single-elimination Xbox One tournament, which runs through to April 11, will receive $100,000 to give to a charity in support of the coronavirus relief efforts.

Durant is the top seed, ahead of Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks), Hassan Whiteside (Portland Trail Blazers), Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns), Andre Drummond (Cleveland Cavaliers), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers), Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), DeMarcus Cousins, Michael Porter Jr. (Denver Nuggets), Rui Hachimura (Washington Wizards), Patrick Beverley (Los Angeles Clippers), Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings) and Derrick Jones Jr. (Miami Heat).

"We're thrilled to partner with the NBA and NBPA to bring basketball back to fans throughout the world and to help those in need during these uncertain times," said Jason Argent, 2K senior vice-president, sports strategy and licensing.

"Entertainment, especially sports, has the ability to bring communities together – including athletes, fans and families – and we hope that everyone will enjoy the tournament."

"We are excited to tip off the first 'NBA 2K Players Tournament' in partnership with the NBPA and 2K, continuing an ongoing effort to stay connected with NBA fans around the world, while also giving back in this time of need," said Matt Holt, NBA SVP of global partnerships.

Players' seeding is based on their NBA 2K rating, with two-time champion Durant 96 overall in the video game.

Durant, who contracted COVID-19 and has been recovering from an Achilles injury, will open the tournament against Jones on Friday.

The Brooklyn Nets held on to beat LeBron James and the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers 104-102 in the NBA.

Spencer Dinwiddie (23 points) hit the tie-breaking jumper with 28.3 seconds remaining as the Nets upstaged the streaking Lakers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The Lakers' four-game winning streak came to an end after Anthony Davis (26 points) missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.

James had 29 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists for the Lakers (49-14), who were unable to close the gap on the slumping Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) for the league's best record.

The Los Angeles Clippers bounced back from Sunday's loss to the Lakers by routing the Golden State Warriors 131-107 away from home.

Kawhi Leonard posted 23 points before sitting out the entire fourth quarter, along with the rest of the Clippers' starters.

 

Tatum stars as Celtics secure playoff berth

Jayson Tatum put up 30 points for the Boston Celtics, who reached the postseason for the sixth consecutive year. Gordon Hayward added 27 points and 10 rebounds in the 114-111 triumph at the Indiana Pacers.

James Harden scored 37 points and Russell Westbrook finished with 27 as the Houston Rockets topped the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-111, snapping a four-game skid.

Luka Doncic registered 38 points, but it was not enough for the Dallas Mavericks, who lost 119-109 at the San Antonio Spurs.

The Washington Wizards benefited from another big Bradley Beal performance in their 122-115 victory over the New York Knicks. Beal had 40 points, surpassing 25-plus points for the 22nd time in 23 games.

All the Portland Trail Blazers' starters posted double-digit points in a 121-105 win against the Phoenix Suns – Damian Lillard (25), CJ McCollum (22), Trevor Ariza (22), Carmelo Anthony (21) and Hassan Whiteside (16, 14 rebounds).

 

Mulder headlines Warriors woes

With Stephen Curry sidelined by the flu, Mychal Mulder played guard and the 25-year-old struggled for the Warriors. Mulder was one-of-nine from the field and 0 of seven from three-point range for three points in 26 minutes.

Aron Baynes made history on Friday. The Australian joined Harden as the only players in NBA history with 30-plus points, 15-plus rebounds and eight or more three-pointers in a game following his career-high 37 points, 16 rebounds and nine three-pointers for the Suns. However, Baynes was just three-of-14 from the field and one-of-seven from beyond the arc for just seven points against the Trail Blazers on Tuesday. He tallied two rebounds in 34 minutes.

 

Russell takes flight

Westbrook hit the runway and soared to the rim for the slam.

 

Tuesday's results

Boston Celtics 114-111 Indiana Pacers
Washington Wizards 122-115 New York Knicks
Chicago Bulls 108-103 Cleveland Cavaliers
Houston Rockets 117-111 Minnesota Timberwolves
Orlando Magic 120-115 Memphis Grizzlies
San Antonio Spurs 119-109 Dallas Mavericks
Portland Trail Blazers 121-105 Phoenix Suns
Los Angeles Clippers 131-107 Golden State Warriors
Brooklyn Nets 104-102 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Pistons at 76ers

After an embarrassing loss away to the lowly Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers (38-26) are back on home court against the Detroit Pistons (20-45) on Wednesday. The 76ers are 28-2 in Philadelphia, compared to 10-24 on the road.

The Milwaukee Bucks were handed a surprise defeat in the NBA, while the Houston Rockets' losing streak continued on Sunday.

Without the injured Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks suffered a 140-131 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Khris Middleton poured in 39 points for Milwaukee, but Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio produced huge performances for Phoenix.

Booker went 13-of-17 from the field for 36 points, while Rubio had a triple-double of 25 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists.

Houston fell to a fourth consecutive loss in a surprise 126-106 defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 47 points for the Rockets.

However, Nikola Vucevic (16 points and 16 rebounds) and Aaron Gordon (19 points and 10 rebounds) had double-doubles for Orlando.

 

LeBron, Davis lift Lakers as Drummond shines

LeBron James (28 points, nine assists and seven rebounds) and Anthony Davis (30 points) saw the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Clippers 112-103.

Andre Drummond's 28 points and 17 rebounds helped the Cleveland Cavaliers past the San Antonio Spurs 132-129 after overtime.

Chris Paul finished with 28 points in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 105-104 win over the Boston Celtics.

 

Horrible Hachimura

Rui Hachimura, the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, went 0-of-eight from the field in the Washington Wizards' loss to the Miami Heat.

 

Red-hot Robinson

Miami's Duncan Robinson hit at least seven three-pointers for the third straight game.

Sunday's results

Brooklyn Nets 110-107 Chicago Bulls
New Orleans Pelicans 120-107 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Lakers 112-103 Los Angeles Clippers
Oklahoma City Thunder 105-104 Boston Celtics
Phoenix Suns 140-131 Milwaukee Bucks
Miami Heat 100-89 Washington Wizards
Indiana Pacers 112-109 Dallas Mavericks
Orlando Magic 126-106 Houston Rockets
Cleveland Cavaliers 132-129 San Antonio Spurs
New York Knicks 96-84 Detroit Pistons
Toronto Raptors 118-113 Sacramento Kings

 

Bucks at Nuggets

The Bucks (53-11) get a chance to bounce back against the Denver Nuggets (42-21) on Monday.

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