Pandemic Basketball begins, with some comforts of home
By TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball Writer
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Michael Baiamonte was not at Walt Disney World on Wednesday. The public address announcer for the Miami Heat wasn’t in the building for the team’s season-restart scrimmage debut.
His voice was.
The sound of him bellowing one of his signature phrases — “stand up and make some noise” — bounced through the arena Wednesday night during a third-quarter stoppage in play, a bit of a peculiar thing because there were no fans there to actually coax into rising from their chairs.
Welcome to Pandemic Basketball. The NBA rolled out what game operations in a bubble will look like, with the first four of 33 scrimmages being played. The scrimmages — exhibitions, some call them — will continue through July 28, two days before the restart of the regular season in the form of seeding games that will determine who has what seed for the playoffs.
“The games are the games,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Once you get in between the lines, you can make a case, that’s probably as comfortable as the players will ever be or as normal as everything will ever be. Because once they get between the lines, it’s a basketball game.”
Rivers and the Clippers were the NBA’s first winners of a game played during a pandemic, after downing Orlando 99-90 in an arena that held about 200 people — players, team staffs and NBA employees included.
Denver beat Washington 89-82, New Orleans eased past Brooklyn 99-68 and in the finale Miami topped Sacramento 104-98.
“I told Doc, I thought it was much more comfortable than I thought it would be,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “I think that the teams that can adapt to playing in an unique, kind of different environment without all the fans, whoever can get the right mindset and concentrate on just playing will have a big advantage.”
There were some new twists.
Ballboys were setting up chairs for teams during timeouts because ones in the bench area must not be moved, and every player had an orange Gatorade cart just for him marked at his assigned seat. And while some players participated in handshakes, some people on the court declined — when Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams offered a fist-bump greeting to referee Jacyn Goble, no reciprocal offer came.
“For me, it’s just basketball,” New Orleans guard E’Twaun Moore said. “It’s kind of easy to play that. It’s like playing your whole life, playing outside, playing in gyms with nobody there, open gym. So it was just fun to go out there and just hoop and have fun.”
Part of the setup here calls for the designated home teams, like the Heat were Wednesday, to get comforts of home.
So they wore white uniforms, had their Heat logo on the video boards, listened to “Seven Nation Army” coming through the speakers as they would at home, and even got to hear Baiamonte.
At the end, “The Heat Is On” — another after-win treat at home — played as they walked off, too.
“The production felt like a big event,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I thought it was terrific. I really did.”
Shooting on Day 1 wasn’t as rusty as some might expect.
The four games Wednesday saw teams shoot 43% from the field, 32% from 3-point range and 81% from the foul line.
For the regular season, the NBA was collectively at 46% from the floor, 36% from 3-point range and 77% from the line.
Zion Williamson could still make re-opening night of the NBA season.
The Pelicans said Wednesday that Williamson, who left the NBA bubble last week for a family matter, is being tested daily for the coronavirus and continues showing negative results. If that continues, Williamson may have to quarantine for only four days when he returns to the team.
And if that return comes in the next few days, that means he could still have a shot of playing when New Orleans faces Utah on July 30 in the first of the 88 seeding games at Disney.
“While there is no current timetable for his return to campus, he fully intends to rejoin the team,” the Pelicans said in a statement. “Per NBA protocol, his quarantine period will be determined upon his return.”
The minimum quarantine Williamson would have to serve for leaving, even though he was officially excused, is the four-day option.
The former Duke star has played in 19 games this season, averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds. He also missed the actual opening night of the season, when New Orleans played the first game of this 2019-20 campaign in Toronto against the reigning NBA champion Raptors.
Houston guard Russell Westbrook, whose arrival in Florida was delayed after he tested positive for the coronavirus, arrived on Monday and got on the practice floor with his team for the first time Wednesday.
It’s unclear if he will play in Houston’s first scrimmage at Disney on Friday. But he had a message to fans about how seriously they should take the coronavirus.
“I’m not a doctor nor a specialist, but I do know that it’s definitely something to take very seriously,” Westbrook said. “Wearing a mask can be between life or death, honestly. … People are dying from this virus each and every day, and it’s something that we all need to take very, very seriously.”
Westbrook said the worst of his symptoms was nasal congestion.
The short-handed Denver Nuggets went with a tall starting lineup in their exhibition opener against Washington.
Really, really tall.
The breakdown: 7-foot Nikola Jokic at point guard, 6-8 Jerami Grant at shooting guard, 7-2 Bol Bol at strong forward, 6-7 Paul Millsap at power forward and 6-11 Mason Plumlee in the middle.
“Might have been the biggest lineup in NBA history,” coach Michael Malone said.
Malone didn’t have much of a choice. He held out Will Barton III and Jamal Murray for precautionary reasons. He didn’t have Torrey Craig or Gary Harris, who just recently arrived into the bubble. But reinforcements will soon arrive with Michael Porter Jr. on his way to Florida.
“Give our guys a lot of credit,” Malone said. “We had a lot of guys step in and play positions that aren’t their natural, comfortable positions.”
The rookie Bol had 16 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes. He didn’t play in a regular-season game and missed most of the year with a left foot injury.
“I’m very impressed,” said Troy Daniels, who was one of the few actual guards the Nuggets had available and led the team with 22 points. “He has a lot of potential.”
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham in Denver and Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed.
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