The Los Angeles Lakers clinched the Western Conference top seed as Anthony Davis erupted, while reigning NBA champions the Toronto Raptors extinguished the Miami Heat.

Davis led the way for the Western Conference-leading Lakers with 42 points and 12 rebounds in Orlando, Florida on Monday.

LeBron James added 22 points as the Lakers (51-15) – six games ahead of rivals the Los Angeles Clippers in the West – look forward to their first playoff appearance since 2013.

Donovan Mitchell top-scored for the Jazz (42-25) with 33 points at the Walt Disney World Resort.

As for the Raptors, they outlasted Eastern Conference rivals the Heat 107-103 thanks to Fred VanVleet.

VanVleet posted a career-high 36 points and made seven three-pointers for the Raptors, who have won back-to-back games since the league resumed behind closed doors following the coronavirus-enforced break.

The Raptors (48-18) are second in the East amid a six-game winning streak, while the Heat are fourth (42-25).

 

Red-hot Warren stars again, Jokic triple-double

After his career-high 53 points in his team's first game back, T.J. Warren put up 34 points and 11 rebounds as the Indiana Pacers defeated the Washington Wizards 111-100. Warren had 16 points in the third quarter to spark a 22-2 run. He was 14-for-26 from the field.

A Nikola Jokic triple-double (30 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) and Michael Porter Jr's double-double (37 points, 12 rebounds) fuelled the Denver Nuggets' 121-113 overtime victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Pelicans struggle from the line

While the New Orleans Pelicans secured a much-needed 109-99 win against the Memphis Grizzlies, they made just 24-of-39 free throws. JJ Redick, a reliable free-throw shooter at 91 per cent, missed back-to-back attempts in the game.

Kendrick Nunn was 0-of-seven from the field and missed all five of his three-point attempts in the Heat's defeat. His two points came via a pair of free throws in 16 minutes of action.

 

Clutch Milton lifts 76ers

With the Philadelphia 76ers trailing 130-128, Shake Milton nailed a three-pointer 6.1 seconds from the end to help his team outlast the San Antonio Spurs 132-130.

Monday's results

Toronto Raptors 107-103 Miami Heat
Indiana Pacers 111-100 Washington Wizards
Philadelphia 76ers 132-130 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Lakers 116-108 Utah Jazz
Denver Nuggets 121-113 Oklahoma City Thunder (OT)
New Orleans Pelicans 109-99 Memphis Grizzlies

 

Nets face Bucks

The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks (54-13) will look to bounce back from their loss to the Houston Rockets when they face the Brooklyn Nets (31-35) on Tuesday. Brooklyn occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

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.

The Los Angeles Clippers overcame the Orlando Magic in a scrimmage game as the NBA resumed on Wednesday.

The Clippers, one of the contenders for the title when the season restarts, beat the Magic 99-90.

Ahead of the NBA season officially restarting in Florida later this month, teams are playing scrimmage games.

Lou Williams led the Clippers with 22 points off the bench, while Paul George finished with 18.

Aaron Gordon, who had 13 points for Orlando, said it was unusual playing behind closed doors.

"It was really quiet, so you've got to bring your own energy," Gordon said, via the NBA website.

"You can hear everything that's being said on the floor.”

The Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat beat the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings respectively.

The New Orleans Pelicans, meanwhile, thrashed the Brooklyn Nets 99-68.

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

June 20 is a day LeBron James will remember fondly, World Cup finals were settled and arguably the most famous penalty technique was first introduced. 

James was once again the king of Miami after leading the Heat to NBA glory in a thrilling series against the San Antonio Spurs. 

New Zealand made history at the first Rugby World Cup, while this day also saw Australia completely dominant in cricket's showpiece event.

Look back at some fond moments from years gone by on this day. 


1976 - The Panenka is born as Czechoslovakia celebrate

Defending European champions and reigning World Cup holders West Germany were overwhelming favourites for the final of Euro 1976. 

While Jan Svehlik and Karol Dobias put Czechoslovakia into a two-goal lead after 25 minutes, Dieter Muller and Bernd Holzenbein both scored to force extra-time in a 2-2 draw. 

When the additional minutes could not split the teams, a penalty shoot-out was required. Uli Hoeness' miss presented Antonin Panenka with a golden opportunity to seal glory.

His long run-up and delicate chip deceived goalkeeper Sepp Maier, leading to the birth of the famous Panenka penalty and earning a 5-3 victory shoot-out victory.


1987 - New Zealand win first final 

A near 50,000-strong crowd roared New Zealand on to victory on home soil at Eden Park in the first ever Rugby World Cup final. 

The fearsome All Blacks were too good for Scotland and Wales in the previous knockout rounds, but France had stunned Australia to provide hope of an upset. 

Instead, it was one-way traffic. Michael Jones, captain David Kirk and John Kirwan scored tries in a convincing 29-9 win over Les Bleus.  

Surprisingly, New Zealand would not be crowned champions again until 2011. 


1999 – Australia Lord it over Pakistan

The 1999 Cricket World Cup final was about as one-sided as it gets as Australia thrashed Pakistan by eight wickets. 

An enigmatic Pakistan side were skittled for a meagre 132 in 39 overs after surprisingly opting to bat first at Lord's, leg-spinner Shane Warne returning figures of 4-33. 

Australia – led by Steve Waugh - rattled off the chase with a whopping 29.5 overs to spare, Adam Gilchrist celebrating a half-century in the process. 

It marked the first of three consecutive World Cup triumphs for the Australians, as they reigned again under the captaincy of Ricky Ponting in both 2003 and 2007. 


2013 – LeBron's Heat reign again after Spurs epic

For the second straight year, LeBron James was named NBA Finals MVP as the Miami Heat retained their title by defeating the Spurs. 

It was the third straight year a star-studded Heat roster including Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had made it through to the Finals. 

A see-saw series had seen the Spurs lead on three occasions but a dramatic 103-100 overtime win in Game 6, considered by many to be one of the great playoff contests in NBA history, set up a decider. 

James duly put up a game-high 37 points and provided 12 rebounds and four assists in a 95-88 triumph. 

The Spurs would gain revenge a year later, which proved to be James' last season in Miami as he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team who had drafted him first overall in 2003. 

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said "we can't stand for the systemic racism, social injustice and police brutality against the black community anymore" following George Floyd's death.

There have been nationwide protests in the United States after Floyd – an African-American man – died in police custody in Minneapolis last week.

A police officer was filmed kneeling on Floyd's neck during an arrest after he was crying out for help as he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground.

Spoelstra spoke out on Saturday, telling members of the South Florida media: "I mean we just simply can't stand for the systemic racism, social injustice and police brutality against the black community anymore. And it's really about standing up for what's right versus what's wrong."

"When [wife] Nikki and I first saw the visuals, we were horrified and disgusted. Then we got really deflated and deeply saddened that this was still happening in our country in the year 2020. In the last 10 days or so, I've really spent the time listening, educating myself, trying to gain more perspective and really reflecting on everything that's been happening.

"It's really about standing up for what's right versus what's wrong. And the other thing is that it really is a call to action. We have an opportunity to be part of a movement to finally impact change. My family and I are all in on this fight. The Miami Heat are all in on this fight. This is not a time to be silent or stand on the sidelines."

Spoelstra, whose Heat team are preparing for the NBA to restart in July following the coronavirus pandemic, added: "I think it's gonna take a sincere empathy and compassion for people of all races, to really reflect and process on the true history of the black community in this country.

"The history has been filled with incredible oppression and we really have to acknowledge that, to start to change the lens of how we see true equality. My wife and I have been really taking this opportunity to really have these conversations, talk to our friends, and really reflect deeply on all of this."

"I think more people are understanding that silence is not acceptable," Spoelstra said. "And the platform our players have is truly an opportunity to move people into action. Everything that's happened is just not right and it's going to take people getting uncomfortable."

"Every time something has happened, your heart breaks," Spoelstra continued, addressing the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.  "Our community and our players have been so incredible in using their voices and platforms previously. With Trayvon Martin, we all thought when our players took that iconic photo and the players had the idea of doing that on their own to really bring it to light to everybody that this is wrong. We all thought that was going to move the needle, and it didn't, and it broke your heart.

"Then when it happens over and over and over, what this is going to require is not even trying to evaluate. It's just put your head down and get into this fight and make it happen this time. There is momentum. I'm inspired by -- what are we going on? -- 12 straight days of protest and the protests are becoming with the younger generation. They are uniting and inspiring and they're becoming less violent. The voices and the conversations and the subject, it can't go away. We have to keep on pushing it forward."

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said his team are "extremely motivated" in their pursuit of glory ahead of the NBA's return.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the 2019-20 NBA season to be postponed in March, but the league is set to restart in July.

The NBA has confirmed plans for 22 teams to relaunch the 2019-20 season, with a tentative resumption date of July 31.

Teams are set to stay at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida and have all their games and practices on the campus after the NBA's Board of Governors approved proposals for a restart after the COVID-19 crisis.

The Heat are among the 22 teams due to head to Florida as one of the 16 franchises that occupied playoff spots when the season was halted, with the six teams that are within six games of the eighth and final seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences also set for Walt Disney World Resort.

"I think our team is extremely motivated to get back at this," Spoelstra told reporters on a teleconference call on Saturday.

"These have been extreme circumstances these last two months-plus. And our guys have done a really commendable job of staying physically fit. But it is a challenge when you don't know whether we're going to start back up or not, or you don't necessarily know what date that it could be.

"Well, now, this gives us a little bit of specificity, and I think everybody is starting to get excited. And you're able to wrap your mind around a concept of replaying."

The Heat (41-24) were fourth in the Eastern Conference, behind the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks (53-12), defending champions the Toronto Raptors (46-18) and the Boston Celtics (43-21), and ahead of the Indiana Pacers (39-26) and Philadelphia 76ers (39-26).

"Will it be different? Yes. It's also exciting, I think," Spoelstra said. "A lot of people could use sports right now, NBA basketball and competition on TV.

"You know, I've heard it probably like anybody else, 'Well, does this mean the World Championship this year, there will be an asterisk next to it?' Yeah, I think, if you can make it through all of this and be worthy of winning that championship and really earning it, this will be one that'll probably be remembered more than any other. It has been that kind of year, this year."

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 four NBA championships, an MVP award, two scoring titles, 15 selections to the All-Star Game and All-NBA First Team honours on eight occasions, Shaquille O'Neal called time on his illustrious career on June 1, 2011.

Nine years on and the Hall of Famer remains one of the most dominant centers the league has ever seen.

After being drafted first overall in 1992 by the Orlando Magic, O'Neal was named Rookie of the Year and went on to provide the focal point of a team that reached the NBA Finals in 1995.

The Magic failed to go one better the following year and lost him to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he teamed up with Kobe Bryant and three-peated under Phil Jackson.

He was traded to the Miami Heat and won one more NBA championship there, before stints at the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and, finally, the Boston Celtics.

O'Neal had his jersey numbers retired by the Heat and the Lakers, while the latter also erected a statue of him outside of Staples Center.

Using Stats Perform data, we look at some of the most notable aspects of O'Neal's career.

 

Controlling the paint

From his first year in the league until 2004-05, O'Neal averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in each of those seasons. That is 13 straight and is more than anyone else in NBA history. Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon each accumulated 12 in succession.

During that run, there were 10 consecutive seasons (from 1993-94 until 2002-03) in which O'Neal averaged at least 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. Abdul Jabbar's run of nine from 1969-70 until 1977-78 is the next best.

He is one of just four players in NBA history to score more than 25,000 points and block over 2,500 shots.

A man for the big occasions

While he shared the spotlight with Bryant at the Lakers, O'Neal showed how important he was to the team when needed.

He was named the NBA Finals MVP in 2000, 2001 and 2002. The only other player to win the award in three straight years is Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.

O'Neal also holds the record for the most offensive rebounds in postseason history, with his 866 comfortably outstripping second-placed Tim Duncan's 778.

 

Struggles from the stripe

While he may have had the beating of most opponents in the paint, O'Neal found life much harder from the free-throw line.

He was often subjected to intentional fouls, with opposing coaches looking to manage the game clock and limit his team's scoring by sending him to the stripe. The strategy was dubbed the Hack-a-Shaq.

O'Neal missed 5,317 free throws across his entire career, the second-most all time in the NBA; only Chamberlain (5,805) missed more.

Of players to have made at least 1,200 free throws in the NBA, O'Neal has the fourth-worst percentage (52.7). Chamberlain is third with a 51.1 per cent success rate, with DeAndre Jordan (47.4) second only to Andre Drummond (46.1 per cent).

O'Neal also holds the single-game record for the most free-throw attempts without making one, failing to hit any of his 11 against the Seattle SuperSonics in December 2000. He still finished the game with 26 points.

The debate over who is basketball's G.O.A.T has been reignited.

The release of 'The Last Dance' - ESPN's docuseries on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls - has brought Michael Jordan's exploits back to the forefront of people's minds.

And the suspension of the current NBA season due to the coronavirus pandemic means current superstar LeBron James has, for the time being at least, been unable to respond on the court.

However, this week marks three years since James, then with the Cleveland Cavaliers, sunk a deep three-pointer in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals to pass Jordan and become the NBA's all-time playoff points leader.

Stats Perform has crunched the numbers on the two icons of the game to look at how they compare when the spotlight shines brightest.

 

PILING ON THE POINTS

That record-breaking shot from beyond the arc against the Boston Celtics moved James beyond Jordan's all-time haul of 5,987 points in his 212th game.

However, his boyhood hero's tally came in just 179 games, with Jordan having averaged a staggering 33.4 points per game, compared to James' 28.9.

There are still multiple postseason records Jordan holds too, including most points in a game (63 - which he accrued in the Bulls' incredible double-overtime loss to the Celtics in 1986) and consecutive games with at least 20 points (60).

Despite having seven-time All-Star Scottie Pippen also on the roster, Jordan was clearly the go-to guy for the Bulls on offense and he led them in scoring in 168 of his 179 playoff appearances.

James has led his teams in scoring (including ties) in an NBA-record 189 playoff games - out of 239 appearances - despite calling Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving team-mates at specific points.

 

JAMES: AN ALL-AROUND THREAT

While Jordan comes out on top in points per game, James has the edge in most other categories.

The current Los Angeles Lakers star averages more rebounds (8.9 to 6.4), assists (7.1 to 5.7) and blocks (0.97 to 0.88) per playoff game than Jordan, who does average more steals (2.10 to 1.75) - and it was robbing Karl Malone of the ball that famously helped MJ deliver championship number six 22 years ago.

James is, marginally, a more efficient postseason shooter, scoring from .491 of his attempts compared to Jordan's .487, though the two are neck and neck (.332) from three-pointers.

The all-around threat of James is perhaps best highlighted by the fact he has 23 playoff triple-doubles - second only to Magic Johnson's 30 - while Jordan made just two across his illustrious career.

 

COUNT THE RINGS

Of course, the ultimate goal for any successful team is to end the NBA Finals holding aloft the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy, something Jordan has done on six occasions, twice as many as James.

Jordan went 6-0 in Finals - and was named MVP of each series - while James has a 3-6 record - and three Finals MVP awards - across stints with the Cavaliers and Miami Heat.

The Bulls' success in the 1990s - when they twice three-peated - means Jordan won 66.5 per cent of the playoff games he appeared in, a number that James (currently 65.3 per cent) will surely soon eclipse with his Lakers team primed for a deep playoff run when this season resumes.

Would another three rings see James surpass Jordan in the eyes of many? For now, it remains a fascinating debate.

Florida followed in the footsteps of Arizona by announcing it is open to professional sports teams amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Arizona governor Doug Ducey opened the door for sport to return to the state without fans on Saturday following the COVID-19 outbreak, which has wreaked havoc globally.

The NBA, NHL and MLS seasons have been postponed, while the start of the 2020 MLB campaign has been delayed.

But Florida's Ron DeSantis became the second governor to clear the way for sport to resume on Wednesday.

"All these professional sports are going to be welcomed in Florida," DeSantis said in a news conference midweek. "That may not be the case in every other state in this country, as we've seen.

"So what I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won't let them operate, we'll find a place for you here in the state of Florida. Because we think it's important and we know that it can be done safely."

The United States has been the hardest country hit, with more than 1.4 million confirmed cases and over 85,000 deaths.

Last week's UFC 249 event was held behind closed doors in Jacksonville, Florida, while WrestleMania 36 took place in Orlando.

"Our people are starved to have some of this back in their lives," DeSantis said Wednesday. "It's an important part of people's lives."

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

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