NBA

LaVine sidelined by NBA health protocols as Bulls' playoff hopes fade

By Sports Desk April 15, 2021

The Chicago Bulls' fading playoff hopes have taken another blow as All-Star Zach LaVine is set to miss some time. 

LaVine is in the NBA's health and safety protocol amid the coronavirus pandemic, the team confirmed on Thursday.

He will miss at least Friday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The Bulls had been scheduled to practice on Thursday, but it was called off because of health and safety protocols, a team spokesperson told reporters. 

Entering Thursday's action, the Bulls (22-32) were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, holding a one-game lead over the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards for the final spot in the play-in tournament.   

LaVine is averaging a career-best 27.5 points per game. He scored 30 points and added seven assists in a loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

Chicago have dropped four games in a row and 12 of their last 16.

 

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  • Tokyo Olympics: Village resident thrown out of Games after going sightseeing Tokyo Olympics: Village resident thrown out of Games after going sightseeing

    Tokyo 2020 chiefs have banished an Olympic Village resident from the Games after they broke strict rules by going sightseeing.

    The individual has had their accreditation withdrawn, said Tokyo Olympic organising committee spokesperson Masa Takaya.

    Takaya did not identify the person concerned and would not comment on whether they were a competitor.

    It is the first case of a resident of the Olympic Village being thrown out for such a breach of the Games 'playbook', which includes restrictions on movement due to the COVID-19 crisis.

    Takaya told a media briefing on Saturday: "To leave the Olympic Village for sightseeing, that should not be tolerated and therefore accreditation was removed

    "I can't give you any more than that. That decision was made yesterday."

    Asked whether the person was an athlete, he added: "I can't tell you. It is a person related to the Games.

    "As long as the accreditation is deprived, this person cannot enter into any Tokyo 2020 relevant venues."

    Regarding whether any others were involved, Takaya said: "In terms of the number of people, I can't disclose that number."

    He said more detail may be provided by Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto on Sunday, when he attends the daily Games briefing.

     

    Takaya also said there had been a breach at a hotel housing athletes that are in isolation due to COVID-19 protocols, with two people said to have left.

    "According to the facility manager – in this case it's a hotel – I have to say the communication was not adequate. When the hotel faced the people who insisted on leaving, the hotel wanted to retain them, trying to convince them of not leaving, but they have forcefully left the facility," Takaya said. 

    That news came in the wake of Germany's athletes' body Athleten Deutschland criticising quarantine conditions.

    The German organisation complained of "insufficient supply in basic areas", including fresh air.

    "The food supply is neither rich nor balanced, nor does it meet the sometimes specific nutritional requirements of top athletes," Athleten Deutschland added.

    "Athletes who have resumed training activities in the room have to wash sweaty clothes in the sink, which hardly dry afterwards.

    "You feel left alone and have to obtain a lot of information yourself. It is unclear to you what the exact sequence of the quarantine is and what steps have to be taken after it has ended."

  • Dallas Mavericks: A new era starts but Luka Doncic the undoubted cornerstone Dallas Mavericks: A new era starts but Luka Doncic the undoubted cornerstone

    A decade ago, the Dallas Mavericks stood atop the basketball world after Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and company won the NBA Finals over a heavily favoured Miami Heat team that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in their first season together.

    With the Heat dynasty clearly on the rise and with the Mavs fielding a veteran roster already, Dallas decided not to make an earnest title defense and traded defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

    The Mavericks have yet to win a playoff series since those 2011 NBA Finals.

    Despite postseason appearances in six of the past 10 seasons and the acquisition of a generational talent in Luka Doncic, owner Mark Cuban decided change needed to come in the 2021 offseason.

    Gone is Donnie Nelson, who had been the general manager since 2002 and was the architect of that title team a decade ago.

    Also gone is longtime head coach Rick Carlisle, who had been in place since 2008 and amassed a record of 555-478. Nonetheless, Cuban decided to change things up.

    "The league has changed in the 21 years since I've been here," Cuban said. "Players have changed. How you build a championship team has changed. Sometimes you just have to look to have a different tool set."

    Who is in charge?

    Doncic and Nelson have a famously close relationship and the 22-year-old star was disappointed to see his longtime friend replaced by former Nike executive Nico Harrison as general manager.

    While training with Slovenia in preparation for the Olympic Games, Doncic admitted he was less than thrilled by the move:  "It was kind of tough to me. I really like Donnie. I know him since I was a kid and he was the one that drafted me.

    "It was tough for me seeing that, but I'm not the one making decisions there."

    This indicates that Cuban, who has long held the reputation as one of the most involved owners in American sports, was asserting his view of what the Mavs' leadership team should look like.

    Yet moving on from Carlisle, long considered a leading NBA coach, appears to be a move targeted at appeasing Doncic. The young star had openly shown his disapproval with some of Carlisle's coaching decisions and substitution patterns, becoming increasingly prone to on-court displays of frustration.

    Doncic may not quite wield the sway of someone like LeBron James, who has become the face of the "player empowerment era" in the NBA, but Cuban has wisely taken Doncic's input into consideration.

    And as much as the hiring of a new leadership team represents a new era for the Mavs, Cuban is clearly trying to revive some of the magic of the 2011 squad.

    Jason Kidd was named the team's next head coach, with it also announced that Dirk Nowitzki would begin a formal role as a front office advisor – two moves that also surround Doncic with mentors to help him progress into a champion.

     

    The cornerstone

    Doncic's career is off to an unprecedented start, and Dallas clearly intends to build around its multi-talented superstar well into the future. Doncic was the fastest in NBA history to reach 5,000 points, 1,500 rebounds and 1,500 assists, hitting those marks in 195 career games.

    LeBron James took 228 games to reach those numbers. Michael Jordan needed 282 games.

    Doncic has also improved every season since entering the league in 2018. Already a triple-double machine, he posted career-high efficiency in 2020-21 by shooting 47.9 per cent from the floor and 35.0 per cent from three-point range.

    His game has started to mature, as well, especially as a scorer. Doncic is a child of the shot-efficiency era, and he has always gotten shots from the most efficient areas on the floor – at the rim, behind the 3-point line and at the free throw line. Those shots remain valuable, but Doncic has diversified arsenal of mid-range options by developing a variety of floaters and pull-ups. He shot 51.5 per cent from mid-range last season – better than mid-range maestro Devin Booker (51.2 per cent) – after shooting around 41 per cent in his first two seasons.

    This bodes well as an indicator of future success in the postseason, when opponents' defenses are geared toward taking away the most efficient shots.

    Doncic's numbers are virtually unassailable and make him almost a lock to win an MVP – if not more – at some point in his career. It can be hard to forget, though, that Doncic has only played three years in the NBA.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo, although a less refined prospect when drafted, needed until his sixth season to win his first MVP and became a champion in his eighth season only after suffering heart-breaking losses, sanding away some rough edges in his game that made him vulnerable in the playoffs and evolving into a true leader.

    Doncic's numbers may remain steadily impressive over the coming years, but he can still grow and develop in subtle ways as he matures. Kidd, a dynamic triple-double threat in his own playing days, will be responsible for overseeing Doncic’s growth.

    "My job is to give him answers to the test," Kidd said of Doncic. "His imagination is at the highest level, which is a great thing to be a part of. I (as a young player) tried a lot of things, and I know I drove a lot of my coaches crazy. I won't get mad because I've been in those shoes."

    Do the pieces fit?

    With a .362 usage rate last season, Doncic shouldered the largest offensive burden of any player in the league. Kidd has already said publicly that the superstar will need more help from his team-mates going forward.

    "Not having to bring the ball up every time and start the play," Kidd said. "When you look at the fourth quarter, he wears down at times."

    Further evidence that Doncic will need more help is that he has exploded for more than 40 points in five of his 13 career playoff games, yet the Mavericks are just 2-3 in those games.

    Kristaps Porzingis has been tabbed as the second option in Dallas but could end up in trade rumours sooner rather than later after a flaccid playoff performance, averaging just 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

    Despite largely considered a disappointment for not recapturing his peak form, Porzingis still plays an important role as a floor spacer on offense while defending bigger players. And while his numbers fall short of what is expected of a second option, his presence on the court makes Doncic better.

    Porzingis spaces the floor and gives Doncic room to penetrate opposing defenses, allowing him to be more efficient while both scoring and assisting, while also shooting much better from any range with Porzingis on the court compared to when he sits.

    Dallas' depth got worse last offseason with a disastrous trade that sent Seth Curry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Josh Richardson, who has failed to live up to his reputation as a defender and who is yet to match his 17-4-4 averages from his breakout season with Miami in 2018-19.

    After a disappointing regular season, Richardson played just 13.4 minutes per game in the Mavs' first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging 4.9 points and shooting under 40 percent.

    Curry, meanwhile, exploded in the postseason for Philadelphia, averaging 18.8 points and connecting on over half of his three-pointers on 6.8 attempts per game.

    Richardson's defensive prowess also appears to be a farse, as the Mavericks allowed 113.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the court last season and only 107.7 with him on the bench.

    Richardson appears to be a failed experiment, and Dallas will need to look elsewhere to find something resembling a third star.

    Evolution or Revolution? Verdict: Evolution

    The organisation has already undergone a massive transformation by ousting their longtime general manager and head coach in favour of a new direction, so it is fair to say that anything resembling a "revolution" has already taken place in the front office.

    The Mavs' roster is far from a finished product, however, and Harrison will need to hit the ground running in his first general manager job. Dallas did not own the rights to any of its picks in the NBA draft, so he will have already assessed the need to look elsewhere to upgrade the roster around his young superstar.

    The postseason failures and frequent injuries of Porzingis could lead the Mavs to the trade market, but opposing teams have also seen those weaknesses and have adjusted their assessments of him as well. Dallas may be better served by displaying some patience with a player who is still only 25 and has averaged over 20 points per game in three straight campaigns.

    Milwaukee's 2021 title demonstrated that teams can still build patiently while developing players and Dallas may be one acquisition away – as the Bucks were with Jrue Holiday – from becoming contenders once again.

  • Tokyo Olympics: Team USA make it 51 and counting as China snatch last-gasp win Tokyo Olympics: Team USA make it 51 and counting as China snatch last-gasp win

    A'Ja Wilson led the way for the United States as they saw off host nation Japan 86-69 at the Tokyo Olympics, while China and Belgium booked their places in the quarter-finals.

    Team USA are six-time defending champions, though they were made to work by their opponents in Saitama before their height proved decisive.

    Now on a 51-game winning streak at the Olympics, Team USA top Group B on four points from their two games so far at the Games.

    Wilson was the top scorer with 20 points, while she also contributed 10 rebounds and three assists. Support arrived from Breanna Stewart (15 points) and Brittney Griner (15 points).

    It was by no means a comfortable victory, however, having edged out Nigeria 81-72 in their first match.

    "Just communication. One, we're getting used to the ball. And then two, just working on making sure we're just all in for each other and understanding the personnel a little bit better," explained guard Jewell Loyd when asked how the team were looking to improve as the tournament goes on.

    "Taking a breath. We've played a little fast in other games so just trying to get a rhythm for us, take it slow and play our basketball."

    Only Wilson scored more points than Japan's Maki Takada, but the hosts were simply physically outmatched.

    "[Team USA] are really superstars," said Evelyn Mawuli. "They know how to play and they're tall and we're small, so we have to run faster than them. So that was a bit difficult, but it was fun."

    CHINA SNATCH LATE WIN TO SEAL QUARTER-FINAL SPOT

    China and Belgium are sure of their places in the last eight.

    That is because of a last-gasp win for China against Australia, avoiding overtime in dramatic fashion to clinch a 76-74 triumph in Group C.

    China, who were led by 20-point Wang Siyu, were 11 ahead at one stage in the final quarter, but that deficit was cut down by a resurgent Australia.

    However, with 0.6 seconds left, Li Yueru was fouled under the basket. She made both free throws to seal victory and progression into the quarters.

    In the process, Belgium's progress was also secured. They beat Puerto Rico 87-52 in the first of Friday's matches.

    GARNIER PROUD OF FRANCE REACTION

    Elsewhere, France bounced back from an opening defeat to Japan with an 87-62 victory over Nigeria in Group B.

    Five players made into double figures for points for the French team, with Sandrine Gruda topping the charts with 14, adding nine rebounds and three assists.

    "It was necessary after the defeat against Japan to have a good reaction. I am proud of my team because they did and they all played very hard defence," France coach Valerie Garnier said.

    "This is necessary against Nigeria because they fight a lot. After we did this very good job, we tried to make the biggest gap possible, so 25 points was a good result for us."

    There were no excuses for Nigeria coach Otis Hughley Jr, who said: "We just got beaten really bad. Offensively we were flat and we couldn't score. You can't play that way against the number five team in the world."

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