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Sport Despite LeBron's Criticism, the Play-In Tourney Is Here to Stay

16:35  04 may  2021
16:35  04 may  2021 Source:   si.com

On police and race, LeBron James becomes part of the problem

  On police and race, LeBron James becomes part of the problem When LeBron tweets something his thumbs often seem a few exit ramps ahead of his brain. And this can lead to some reckless rhetoric that has a real impact, considering that he has nearly 50 million followers, about equal to the populations of New York, Florida and Michigan combined. Exhibit A on the reckless-rhetoric front came after LeBron weighed in on the police shooting of a Black teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, who - according to police bodycam footage - was attempting to stab another teenage girl with a knife big enough to be visible on the footage.

Amid the Lakers' recent struggles, LeBron is not happy about the NBA’s play-in tournament. Plus, why Scott Brooks isn’t wrong about Russell Westbrook’s impact at the point guard position.

View the original article to see embedded media.

Welcome to the Morning Shootaround, where every weekday you’ll get a fresh, topical column from one of SI.com’s NBA writers: Howard Beck on Mondays, Chris Mannix on Tuesdays, Michael Pina on Wednesdays, Chris Herring on Thursdays and Rohan Nadkarni on Fridays.

Back in February, with objections over the NBA’s decision to hold an All-Star game simmering, LeBron James turned up the heat. “I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star game,” James said. Just like that, a minor problem became a major headache. James’s words served as rocket fuel for the discussion. A debate previously relegated to basketball-centric websites suddenly earned column inches in the New York Times and Washington Post, with wall-to-wall coverage on debate shows across networks.

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On Sunday, hours after the Lakers loss to the Raptors, James stirred the NBA pot once again. For months, the merits of the play-in tournament, the four team per conference mini-playoff that will determine the final two postseason seeds, have been argued. Some, like Mavericks star Luka Dončić, have contended that a 72-game season should be enough to determine a playoff field. James, it seems, agrees with him. “Whoever came up with that s—t,” said James, “needs to be fired.”

No heads will roll at Olympic Tower, of course. And why would they? The play-in, in all its forms, has been a success. Last season, with the NBA restarting in Florida, Portland, Memphis, Phoenix and San Antonio battled for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. This season, Memphis, Golden State and San Antonio are within one game of the eighth seed in the West. In the East, Washington, Indiana and Charlotte are within two games of each other in the loss column.

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  Julius Erving oddly left LeBron off his all-time NBA top 10 list because of role in superteams We're at that period in the NBA season that falls somewhere between the All-Star break and the final stretch of the playoff hunt, which almost always seems like the point where the NBA all-time great debate gets re-litigated for the m illionth time. © Provided by For The Win You know: LeBron vs. Jordan. Or maybe LeBron vs. Jordan vs. Kobe vs. Kareem. And so on. But you’re almost guaranteed to have that all-time debate involve LeBron somewhere near the top because, well, he’s, at worst, the second best player of all time.

Think the Wizards are down on the play-in? In mid-January, Washington’s season was in shambles. Seven players tested positive for COVID-19. Team facilities were shut down. Players were isolated. Davis Bertans spent two weeks with an Xbox at a Residence Inn. When games resumed, the Wizards, still sluggish from the layoff, dropped four straight.

Another season, Washington might have considered joining the race to the bottom. Instead, with the play-in tournament offering hope, the Wizards have pressed forward. They picked up Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline to reinforce the frontcourt. Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal look more comfortable playing together by the game. Rui Hachimura, injured for much of January, has been a consistent scoring presence since. Washington is not only a threat to make the playoffs, but will be a nightmare matchup for any top seed (hello, Brooklyn) if they get there.

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And what about Golden State? The Warriors title hopes were dashed when Klay Thompson tore his Achilles before the season. But Golden State has battled through the adversity to position itself for a shot at the play-in tournament. You think the NBA wouldn’t benefit from a couple extra high stakes games of Stephen Curry? Think the playoffs wouldn’t be better with Curry, an MVP candidate, in them? Think ratings, which have bottomed out this season, wouldn’t be juiced by a few one-and-done games early in the playoffs? Ask MLB how that has worked out.

And the downside is … what, exactly? It’s worth noting that both Dončić and James were hovering around the No. 7 seed when they criticized the play-in tournament. It’s fair to argue that the No. 7 seed shouldn’t be involved in the play-in, that it should be reserved for the eighth and ninth seeds, and even then some team executives have argued there should be a game only if the ninth seed is within a few games of No. 8. “The play-in is great, especially for the young teams who have something to play for,” a team executive told SI. “But you don’t want to devalue the regular season too much.”

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  NBA Power Rankings: Is It Time to Worry About the Lakers? LeBron James and the Lakers continue to fall in the standings. But should we really be concerned? View the original article to see embedded media.Should we be worried about the Lakers as we enter the final weeks of the regular season? The first instinct is to dismiss any concern at all, noting that with both stars healthy, only the Nets have a chance to defeat the reigning champs this summer. But perhaps the answer isn’t so simple. Los Angeles’s health is no guarantee even as Anthony Davis works himself back into shape.

Adding games to an already COVID-challenged schedule is an issue, perhaps more than the NBA anticipated before the season. (Side note: The NBA should have anticipated COVID causing a wave of early problems, it should have spent the first half of the season in a bubble and it would have protected the integrity of a season that for the first two months was a mess … but that’s a discussion for another day). But long-term, some version of the play-in will be part of the NBA’s schedule. The tournament received unanimous support from the league’s Board of Governors last fall and has a fierce advocate in Adam Silver, who told SI last summer that he believed the play-in was “a great addition to the league.”


Video: Can Giannis Be the Best Player in a Series Against the Nets? (Sports Illustrated)

“I do see this as something we would embrace going forward,” Silver said. “As you know I’ve been talking about it for a while. I’m not sure if this would be the exact format going forward. But this is something we’d like to see stay.”

For years, the NBA has looked for ways to enhance the regular season, to whittle down the number of teams tanking towards the end of it. Flattening the lottery odds, which the NBA revised in 2019, helped. The play-in will help more. James’s voice brings players issues with the play-in to the forefront. But it will do nothing to change it.

NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 7, 2021

  NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 7, 2021 Players in the COVID protocol are: Colorado's Devan Dubnyk and Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov.Anaheim – TBA

The Case for Russell Westbrook

a basketball player with a football ball © Provided by Sports Illustrated

Shortly after Washington’s 154-141 win over Indiana, a game headlined by Russell Westbrook’s astonishing 14-point, 21-rebound, 24 assist effort, Wizards coach Scott Brooks set social media on fire by saying this about his All-Star guard:

“I used to always say he's going to probably go down as the third-best point guard ever, but I think he's passed one and he's going to go down as probably the second-best,” said Brooks. “One is obviously Magic [Johnson]. What he does, there's no point guard that has ever done it. Nobody. Nobody.”

"There might be some that shoot better, there might be some that probably can do certain things better. But there's nobody in the history of the game that can do what he does throughout the stat sheet. That guy is as high as level of a player this league has ever seen.”

Brooks isn’t wrong about Westbrook’s impact at the position. Make a list of players with 20 rebound/20 assist games in NBA history. It won’t take long. Westbrook, who did it for the second time on Monday, is one. Wilt Chamberlain is the other. If Stephen Curry revolutionized point guard with his shooting, Westbrook has done it with speed and power.

Is he the second best all-time? Curry would make a modern argument against that. Go back further and John Stockton and Isiah Thomas would like a word. Bob Cousy, still around at age 92, would probably have an opinion. Point guard is among the NBA’s most talent-stocked positions, making the debate a highly subjective one.

NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 8, 2021

  NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 8, 2021 Players in the protocol are: Colorado's Devan Dubnyk and Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov.Calgary – TBA

(I texted Brooks after the game about his Westbrook comments, he responded with a lengthy list of ex-Celtics point guards, including John Bagley and Dana Barros, that I, a Boston-native, would probably take over Westbrook. It’s worth noting that Brooks himself is technically an ex-Celtic point guard, having spent five glorious days with Boston after being traded there in 1997 before being summarily released.)

Debating Westbrook’s legacy is polarizing, with critics (Inefficient! Doesn’t win!) equaling the number of Brooks-like supporters. But Brooks is right about Westbrook’s statistical impact. His three straight seasons—seasons!—of averaging a triple-double is the NBA’s 56-game hitting streak, a record that will never, ever be broken. He is one of the NBA’s best teammates (Bradley Beal recently called Westbrook “probably” the best teammate he has ever had, echoing a statement many have made) with a work ethic has rubbed off on many, including the young Wizards. Brooks may have been a little hyperbolic with his praise of Westbrook on Monday. But he wasn’t that far off.

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usr: 1
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