The Houston Rockets edged the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA on Sunday, while the Boston Celtics also claimed a narrow win.

The Rockets rallied past the Bucks 120-116 on the back of a standout performance from Russell Westbrook at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Westbrook finished with 31 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while James Harden had 24 points.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a game-high 36 points, to go with 18 rebounds and eight assists.

The Celtics claimed their first win since the restart by overcoming the Portland Trail Blazers 128-124.

Jayson Tatum bounced back to form, going 11-of-22- from the field for 34 points.

 

Mavs clinch playoff spot, Morant marvellous

After the Memphis Grizzlies' loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks reached the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16.

They later fell to a 117-115 defeat to the Phoenix Suns despite 40 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds from star Luka Doncic.

Ja Morant had 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, plus nine rebounds and nine assists, in the Grizzlies' 108-106 loss to the Spurs.

 

Johnson struggles

Tyler Johnson missed all seven of his field-goal attempts in the Brooklyn Nets' 118-110 win over the Washington Wizards

 

Markelle magic

Markelle Fultz hit a shot from three-quarter court in the Orlando Magic's win over the Sacramento Kings.

Sunday's results

Brooklyn Nets 118-110 Washington Wizards
Boston Celtics 128-124 Portland Trail Blazers
San Antonio Spurs 108-106 Memphis Grizzlies
Orlando Magic 132-116 Sacramento Kings
Houston Rockets 120-116 Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix Suns 117-115 Dallas Mavericks

 

Raptors face Heat

Following a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, defending champions the Toronto Raptors (47-18) face another test when they take on Eastern Conference rivals the Miami Heat (42-24) on Monday.

Marcus Smart accused officials of giving Giannis Antetokounmpo preferential treatment in the Boston Celtics' loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a 119-112 victory in the NBA on Friday, scoring 36 points to go with 15 rebounds.

But there was late controversy, the reigning NBA MVP almost fouling out, only for a charge call to be overturned to a blocking foul against Smart.

Smart believes officials simply did not want to see Antetokounmpo foul out.

"The excuse was I was late on the charge, they said the replay centre said I was late and it was a block," Celtics guard Smart told a news conference.

"But quite frankly I think we all know what that was about, Giannis' sixth foul, didn't want to get him out.

"We'll just call that spade a spade and that's just what it is."

Antetokounmpo was keen to move on from the incident, having exchanged words with Smart during the game.

"I know that he's going to try to attack all the time and try to get me out of my game," the Bucks star said.

"And I respect that he's doing that because he's trying to get me out of my game. I understand it.

"When I sit down and I calm down, I understand what he's trying to do. I don't think he’s a bad person. At the end of the day, that's his opinion.

"I feel like he was moving in the last play, but either way, if it was a charge, if was not a charge, I'm happy that we got the win."

Giannis Antetokounmpo starred in a win for the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA on Friday, while the Houston Rockets edged the Dallas Mavericks.

Antetokounmpo's double-double of 36 points and 15 rebounds helped the Bucks past the Boston Celtics 119-112.

The reigning NBA MVP went 14-of-20 from the field in the Bucks' victory.

Marcus Smart scored 23 points off the bench for Boston, while Jaylen Brown contributed 22 points.

James Harden starred with 49 points in the Rockets' 153-149 overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks.

Kristaps Porzingis (39 points and 16 rebounds) led the Mavericks, but they fell short.

 

Fantastic Fournier, Portland trio shine

Evan Fournier went 10-of-15 for 24 points in the Orlando Magic's 128-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

The Portland Trail Blazers overcame the Memphis Grizzlies 140-135 after overtime thanks to CJ McCollum (33 points), Damian Lillard (29) and Carmelo Anthony (21).

 

Terrible Tatum

Jayson Tatum struggled badly in the Celtics' loss. The forward went two-of-18 from the field for just five points in 32 minutes.

 

Harden's hot start

Harden made a fast start with 23 points in the first quarter for the Rockets.

Friday's results

Orlando Magic 128-118 Brooklyn Nets
Portland Trail Blazers 140-135 Memphis Grizzlies
Phoenix Suns 125-112 Washington Wizards
Milwaukee Bucks 119-112 Boston Celtics
San Antonio Spurs 129-120 Sacramento Kings
Houston Rockets 153-149 Dallas Mavericks

 

Lakers face Raptors

In another battle between two championship contenders, the Los Angeles Lakers (50-14) face the Toronto Raptors (46-18) on Saturday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo starred as the Milwaukee Bucks lost on Monday, while the Los Angeles Clippers also went down in a scrimmage game.

Antetokounmpo scored 30 points to go with eight rebounds in a 124-103 defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans.

JJ Redick led the Pelicans with 20 points in just over 15 minutes off the bench.

It was the Bucks' final scrimmage game before they restart their NBA season against the Boston Celtics on Friday.

Also playing their final scrimmage, the Clippers – also considered championship contenders – were edged 106-102 by the Sacramento Kings.

Paul George (19 points) was solid, while Kawhi Leonard went six-of-22 from the field for his 17 points.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers posted a 123-116 victory over the Washington Wizards.

Giannis Antetokounmpo insists his main focus is on improving his game and lifting the NBA title with Milwaukee Bucks, rather than winning more individual honours.

The 25-year-old was named the league's Most Valuable Player last season, becoming the first Bucks player to win the accolade since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974.

And he looks poised to make it back-to-back MVP triumphs thanks to some incredible displays before the campaign was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic in March.

The voting for the MVP and other individual regular-season awards is over ahead of the July 30 restart, with "seeding games" not being included to ensure a fair process.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James made his claim for a fifth Maurice Podoloff Trophy by declaring he knows what he is capable of, but biggest challenger Antetokounmpo is not focused on the award.

"I know there's going to be a lot talk about the MVP award. That's not my main focus," he told a news conference on Tuesday when asked about James' comments.

"I've got to get better, win games, help my team play good basketball, try to win the big trophy - the last time we did that was 1971."

Antetokounmpo was averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game when the NBA was suspended amid the COVID-19 crisis.

And the reigning MVP admits he has been working on his game during the lockdown, having previously stunned fans by claiming he did not own a basketball hoop at his home.

"Anybody out there that thought I didn't have access to a gym, they don't really know me," he said. "I just said that trying to get a little ahead of the competition."

The Bucks are in action against San Antonio Spurs on Thursday - their first action in four months - and Antetokounmpo is in line to feature after recovering from a knee injury.

"What I want to do is basically just try to get in shape and get in basketball shape," he said. "It doesn't matter how long I play. 

"If I play 10 minutes, 15 minutes, the whole game, I'm just gonna go as hard as I can because eventually when the season starts again and the play-offs start, that's what I got to do. 

"So you know, as long as I'm on the court, I'm just going to go as hard as I can."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves to win back-to-back NBA MVP awards.

The voting for the MVP and other individual regular-season awards are now reportedly over as the NBA season prepares to restart on July 30 after the league was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bucks star Antetokounmpo was crowned the league's Most Valuable Player last season, dethroning Houston Rockets guard James Harden.

Budenholzer believes Antetokounmpo should win consecutive honours as the NBA-leading Bucks (53-12) eye their first championship since 1971 via a 22-team bubble at Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida.

"I had no idea that that was the case, but it makes sense. I think it was 64, 65, 66 games for different teams so that's certainly a significant body of work and more importantly, certainly, Giannis in our minds has done more than enough to deserve a back-to-back MVP," Budenholzer said on Friday, when told none of the seeding games will be taken into consideration for awards.

"What he does for us on both ends of the court, what he does every night, the way he sets the bar for us, culture-wise, work ethic-wise, just as a team-mate.

"He's an incredible team-mate, plays unselfishly, does everything. And I think that's kind of what the MVP is so we certainly feel like he's very deserving and we'll be excited to support him."

Antetokounmpo was averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game when the NBA was suspended amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The Bucks will restart their campaign against Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics on July 31.

Giannis Antetokounmpo believes any stars unhappy with their living conditions in the NBA bubble could do with a dose of perspective.

A number of players have shared social media posts of their functional quarters in Orlando as the league prepares for its restart at the end of this month.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo believes the situation represents no imposition, considering his experiences of poverty in his native Greece as a youngster.

"I'm in a situation where I'm extremely blessed and I cannot complain," he told reporters.

"Obviously, it doesn't matter where you are in life – there's always something to complain [about], there's always a problem and an issue.

"But I try to kind of not focus on that. So, as I said, my apartment in Greece, when I was younger, with my four brothers, was way smaller than the suite that I have in the hotel, so I'm just trying to enjoy the moment."

Indeed, Antetokounmpo is excited by the return to competitive action at Walt Disney World, with the Bucks resuming against the Boston Celtics on July 31.

"This is something special," he said.

"Hopefully, this pandemic never happens again so we never are able to come back in the campus, but at the end of the day, this is part of history, so just being able to be here, participate in this, I'm just trying to be in the moment, trying to enjoy every moment, trying to enjoy basketball.

"I'm happy that we're back playing basketball, something that I love doing, so there's nothing really to complain about."

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

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo believes the 2020 NBA title will be the "toughest championship you could ever win" due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2019-20 NBA season is set to return via a 22-team format at the Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida on July 30 after the campaign was halted due to COVID-19 in March.

Eastern Conference leaders Milwaukee boasted a league-best 53-12 record prior to the postponement, ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference.

As teams prepare to be based in an Orlando bubble, reigning MVP Antetokounmpo insisted this season's championship should not come with an asterisk.

"I feel like a lot of people say that there's gonna be a star next to this championship," Antetokounmpo said.

"I feel like, at the end of the day, this is gonna be the toughest championship you could ever win – because the circumstances are really, really tough right now. So whoever wants it more is going to be able to go out there and take it."

Antetokounmpo added: "Everybody has concerns about their health. Nobody wants to put themselves in risk out there, but at the end of the day, that's what the NBA chose, and we're gonna resume the games, and we've all gotta do our job.

"And my job is to play basketball and go out there and support my team-mates and represent the city. But for sure, I think me, my team-mates, my family – especially my mum – everybody has concerns about our health, and my health."

The Bucks will return to action against the Boston Celtics on July 31 as Milwaukee eye their first championship since 1971.

"I feel like the champion from this experience, from this season, I think is going to be more worthy and probably more special than any [other] champion," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Antetokounmpo was averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game prior to the NBA's suspension.

"I want to be one of the best players to ever play the game," four-time All-Star Antetokounmpo said. "I did the best job I could do trying to stay ready and trying to have my team ready for this journey that we're about to go on to leave and play games.

"But as I said, whoever wants it more, whoever is mentally prepared for all this, what's going on in Orlando, that's the team that's gonna come out on top."

Milwaukee Bucks guard George Hill said the NBA is the "last thought on my mind" amid the fight against racism 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 on May 25.

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.

The NBA season, which was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in March with the Bucks topping the standings, is set to restart via a 22-team format in Orlando, Florida next month.

But Hill talked down the league's planned return in the midst of protests over social injustice and racism in the country.

"I've been working every day since this all started with my body, my game and things like that, but as a whole, I can care less about basketball right now," an emotional Hill said during a video conference on Friday as he shared his own experiences.

"That's like my last worry. That's just the game I'm blessed to play. When the ball goes up in the air, I'm ready to play, I love the competitive side of it, but that's not who I am.

"So, that's my last thought on my mind is basketball. I can care less what's going on. I think there's bigger issues and bigger things to tackle in life right now than a basketball game, but that's just my personal opinion."

"If I didn't have that talent, I possibly would've been that George Floyd. I possibly would've been all my family members that got gunned down in the streets in Indianapolis," Bucks veteran Hill, 34, added.

"So, yes, this for me, it impacts me even more because I've seen the killing going on, and I've seen the police brutality.

"I've seen that my cousin is laying in the street for an hour and a half before another police officer gets there. I've seen that. So, I get emotional because it really hurts. I've got interracial kids, and I'm scared just for my whole life."

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.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to smoke a cigar like Michael Jordan and celebrate a potential NBA championship in Mykonos.

The Bucks were favourites to win the NBA title before the season was suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Milwaukee owned the best record in the league at 53-12, ahead of LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers, in pursuit of their first title since 1971.

While COVID-19 has halted Milwaukee's quest, reigning MVP Antetokounmpo is hoping to take the NBA trophy to his native Greece and the party island of Mykonos – channelling Chicago Bulls great Jordan.

"Before all this happened with COVID-19, I was talking about taking the team on a trip to Greece in Mykonos," Antetokounmpo said via the Athletes Doing Good Radiothon on ESPN.

"Mykonos is one of the best islands in Greece, it's a party island. You cannot go there with your significant other, you got to be by yourself. It's got to be a boys' trip.

"Obviously, we have Santorini, Santorini's really romantic. It has the best sunset and sunrise in the world. You can take your significant other there.

"I had the opportunity to go last year – I went with [Eric] Bledsoe and Brook [Lopez] to Mykonos – and I was kind of sad I wasn't able to bring the whole team to experience what we went through.

"So definitely, I think, after we win the championship and we're holding the trophy and we're all smoking a cigar like M.J., we can all do that in Mykonos."

It remains to be seen when, and if, the 2019-20 season will resume following the coronavirus outbreak.

NBA practice facilities have started to re-open this month after the league had targeted no earlier than May 8 for teams to return to their complexes.

Commissioner Adam Silver is reportedly considering the league returning via two locations – Orlando and Las Vegas.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said a hacker was behind a string of racist and insulting posts on his Twitter account, leaving him "disappointed and disgusted".

A series of controversial tweets from the NBA MVP's official account targeted the Milwaukee Bucks and his team-mate Khris Middleton, as well as LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

Insensitive comments were also published about Kobe Bryant, who died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in California in January.

All of the incendiary posts have since been deleted.

In a statement published on Twitter, Antetokounmpo said: "Hey everybody! I'm back and would like to address the social media incident from earlier today! I was hacked and the situation is currently being investigated.

"The tweets and posts were extremely inappropriate and I am so disappointed and disgusted that somebody would say the terrible things that were said!

"I feel terrible that the Bucks, Khris, LeBron and the Curry family were included in the malicious and untrue tweets.

"I feel especially terrible for the Bryant family, during their time of grief they should not be subjected to this type of negativity and foul behaviour.

"Thank you all for always supporting my family and I, and please stay safe!"

A statement from the Bucks read: "Giannis Antetokounmpo's social media accounts were hacked this afternoon and have been taken down. An investigation is underway."

Antetokounmpo's brother Kostas, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, attempted to make followers aware the Bucks star was not behind the comments as they were published.

He later added: "Giannis' twitter, phone, email and bank accounts were hacked!

"He genuinely apologises for everything that was tweeted and he will be back as soon as possible!

"The things that were said by this hacker were extremely inappropriate and disgusting!"

George Hill is not worried about the Milwaukee Bucks losing out on a potential NBA title due to the coronavirus pandemic, insisting "life is way more precious than this ball that we play in".

The NBA has been suspended since March 11 due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has killed at least 203,100 people worldwide.

It remains to be seen when, and if, the 2019-20 season will resume as the United States struggles to contain the outbreak following more than 960,600 confirmed cases and over 54,200 deaths in the country.

The Bucks topped the NBA standings with a 53-12 record and were tipped to claim their first title since 1971 at the time of postponement, but Milwaukee veteran Hill said there is more important things to worry about.

"I'm a little 50-50… life itself is bigger than the money aspect of the game," Hill told reporters via a conference call. "Yes, as competitors and athletes we want to play this season. But if more lives are in jeopardy, I couldn't care less about the season.

"Life is way more precious than this ball that we play in. If they cancel the season, as an athlete I would be upset but we can’t do anything about it. If we play, I'm excited to play again and get back on the court. We had something special going on and I'd love to finish it."

"Health and safety are way more important [than the season]," Hill added. "I think our fanbase would understand if the season didn't come back. We have a lot of fans out there, not just Bucks fans but NBA fans too.

"The world is bigger than just NBA fans. To our fans, it will be exciting to get the season back, to get it up and going and get something to watch on TV.

"But if this is the cost for safety and health, what we have to ask is, 'Is it worth it? Is it worth putting yourself on the line, putting your family and kids on the line to make a couple more dollars?' For me, personally, no.

"I didn't grow up with money and I don't define my life by money. I define my life around happiness, being safe, being able to enjoy life and live this life for a long time."

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.

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