2020 Official NBA Mock Draft Featuring Coach Trager and LordTreeSap

The Lakers hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy less than six weeks ago, the NBA Draft is less than 48 hours away and its November, the season is getting ready to tip off in just over a month, but at this point it is par for the course when it comes to 2020.

The 2020 draft class has garnered a middling reputation, but will be stronger as the round goes on with solid depth. With a ton of unpredictability at the top, there’s still no consensus No. 1 overall pick as the time continues to tick on Minnesota. We’ve already seen a ton of wheeling and dealing in the league, which doubles as an Academy Award-winning drama when the off-season rolls around.

Luckily for you, Brandon “Coach T” Trager and LordTreeSap are here to walk you through the entire lottery for Wednesday’s NBA Draft. Take a look at our predictions and keep it locked on the Daily Mix Report for draft coverage from LTS, while Trager lives the life of luxury in the green room with Obi Toppin.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Coach T: LaMelo Ball, Australia

The most mysterious, yes unmysterious, tantalizing prospect of the draft. If you’re a hoops fan, we all remember what seems like yesterday a young freshman LaMelo pullin’ up from half court in video clips gone viral. Fast forward a few years, LaMelo is a 6’7″ do-it-all PG. I am beyond happy LaVar has shut his mouth and just let his boys have a normal professional career. It was funny at first, but it got old pretty quick.

However, I will give him credit, he said LaMelo would go No. 1, and be the best of the three Ball brothers. He’s made a lot of promises that have yet to come true, but it’s amazing that some of them have. In a draft with no certain No. 1 pick, LaMelo may have the best upside with his size and playmaking ability. Just like big bro Lonzo, he looks to make everyone around him better. I’m not sure how the Ball – Russell Dynamic will look, but if he pans out, a two-guard backcourt alongside KAT doesn’t sound too shabby. I see the Wolves going Ball here.

LordTreeSap: Anthony Edwards, Georgia

Anthony Edwards has been billed as the top prospect for months now, so I don’t think the Wolves will ultimately pass up on the opportunity to pair him with D’Angelo Russell for an explosive back court and potential big three forming with Karl-Anthony Towns. During his best moments, AE looks like a young James Harden without the elite court vision, but a bulldog going to the rim just like the school he reps.

NBA Draft 2020: Anthony Edwards Opens Up on His Surreal Experience With  Michael Jordan and Golden State Warriors - EssentiallySports

2. Golden State Warriors

Coach T: James Wiseman, Memphis

Let me rant quick then I’ll stop, WHY DO THE WARRIORS NEED TO GET REWARDED AT 2!? Yeah, it stinks their two studs were essentially out for the season, but the NBA Gods hand them the No. 2 pick, when the Knicks can’t catch a break. Ok I’m done. The Warriors need a big, and Wiseman offers the best upside. 7+ footer, incredibly athletic, and will eventually step out and shoot, he may be the gem of this draft. Steph, Klay, Wiggins, Green, Wiseman, yeah, the Western Conference forgot about the Warriors. Here we go…

LordTreeSap: James Wiseman, Memphis

This is the layup of the draft. GSW has played it coy as a contender picking at the top of the draft who would probably prefer to flip the pick and assets for a third star alongside the Splash Brothers. If that doesn’t come to fruition, the athletic rim-running Wiseman gives the Dubs another weapon at their disposal and an inside presence they’ve lacked.

James Wiseman Says He Would Be A Great Fit With The Golden State Warriors –  Fadeaway World

3. Charlotte Hornets

Coach T: Anthony Edwards, Georgia

If Edwards slips to three, there’s no way the Hornets can pass up on him. If you look at this dude in a uniform, you may think he’s been in the NBA for 3-4 years. Explosive wing who can get to the rim and shoot the ball. He has that slasher wing in him looking like a young D-Wade at times. MJ may make up for all of his failed drafts with this pick here. Look for the Hornets to go with my favorite player in this year’s draft, Anthony Edwards.

LordTreeSap: Onyeka Okongwu, USC

We never know what Michael Jordan and the Hornets are going to pull when it comes to drafting, we just usually know it’s going to be the wrong decision. Onyeka has soared up draft boards as a versatile big in the mold of Bam Adebayo and everyone saw how valuable he was inside the bubble on Miami’s Finals run.

4. Chicago Bulls

Coach T: Deni Avdija, Israel

These European dudes are so hit and miss, but I feel like these have been more hits than misses of late. Basketball has really stepped up its game overseas, and you’re seeing the product translate to the NBA. Avdija is a strong 2-way player who is very experienced and has played against supreme talent.

The Bulls have a young roster, and he should fit in nicely next to Lavine, Markkanen, Carter, and some of the other Bulls young talent. I think anyone who passed up on (or traded) some guy named Luka would tell you they regret not honoring his dominance overseas. Look for the Bulls to continue to grow their young roster under new coach Billy Donovan with Deni Avdija.

LordTreeSap: LaMelo Ball, Australia

LaMelo Ball, the most polarizing prospect in this draft. You ask five different “experts” about his career trajectory and you’ll probably get five different answers. The final Ball brother has a good chance to be the best of the bunch with the way Lonzo has stumbled out of the gate. Chicago didn’t extend a qualifying offer to Kris Dunn, so a ball handler spot opens up alongside sniper Coby White to form the backcourt of the future. I’m still trying to figure out why Billy Donovan took this job though.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

Coach T: Obi Toppin, Dayton

This next player is special because I had the opportunity to be a part of his path to the NBA coaching both him and his younger brother Jacob (University of Kentucky). Obi has grown from a 6’1″ high school senior, to a 6’9″ rim-running monster. The reigning National Player of the Year may be the most “NBA ready” prospect. He is incredibly athletic, savvy in the post, and can step out and shoot the 3. He is a prototypical NBA Big.

He needs to improve his perimeter defense/lateral quickness and continue to get stronger. However, he is going to be a consistent NBA player with a long career. From knowing Obi personally, he’s one of the most likable, humble people you’ll ever meet, and everyone who comes across him loves him. Being he played for Dayton in Ohio, I don’t see him slipping past six. I don’t love this spot for him, because this is probably my least favorite team picking in the top 10. However, look for Obi to make an immediate impact wherever he goes.

LordTreeSap: Deni Avdija, Israel

I’m not going to act like I’ve watched Deni Avdija play a full game of basketball, but he’s been on the NBA’s radar for some time. Checking out his skillset, I could easily see a Danilo Gallinari type of career coming his way, which would be a win for Cleveland.

6. Atlanta Hawks

Coach T: Isaac Okoro, Auburn

Full disclosure, I hope Okoro doesn’t get picked here, because I want the Knicks to draft him. Anyway, let’s pair up the talented young hawks with an athletic versatile 2-way wing. Okoro plays hard and will be an elite NBA defender. If he can develop a jump shot, he’ll end up being the highly coveted “3 and D” stud that every NBA team is looking for. Young, Okoro, Collins and co. sounds like a nice young core to me.

NBA Draft news: Auburn star Isaac Okoro to declare for draft

LordTreeSap: Obi Toppin, Dayton

Coach T put Obi on my radar a couple years ago and he’s played his way into a bona fide top 10 pick in that time. Although he’s already 22-years-old, Toppin is a sure-fire fit at the four in the NBA with great athleticism and a capable jumper.

I still feel bad for his Dayton Flyers season being cut short; who knows when they’ll be a potential one-seed again? Atlanta could use Toppin if rumors flying are true that they plan to test the market on John Collins if the two sides can’t agree on a fair extension.

7. Detroit Pistons

Coach T: Patrick Williams, Florida State

Williams seems to be fling up draft boards as a modern NBA big. 6’8″, versatile defender who can shoot the three. The Pistons are in the midst of a rebuild and Williams may be able to learn a thing or two from Blake Griffin, who has had trouble staying on the court.

LordTreeSap: Isaac Okoro, Auburn

Okoro will be a great fit and culture changer for Detroit on the wing for a barren roster that needs a lot of help. A tenacious defender, and if his jumper comes along, he’ll be the type of versatile defense-first wing that just about every team is starving for. We just saw the Trail Blazers pay two firsts for Robert Covington this week. This pick might finally right the wrong of selecting Stanley Johnson in 2015, who I really liked coming out of Arizona.

8. New York Knicks

Coach T: Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State

I can’t invest myself emotionally into the Knicks. It’s a yearly heartbreak that I can’t handle. We kill ourselves, and seemingly find no luck on our side. Mini-rant over. Let’s go with Tyrese Haliburton here, a nice combo guard who is a nice playmaker and can shoot the basketball. He plays hard and I think would be a great fit next to RJ Barrett, and in NY in general.

The Knicks have DESPERATELY needed someone to step in and man the PG position. They have a solid foundational core, and a point guard to help accelerate the rebuild would be huge. Pair Tyrese with RJ Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks two best prospects, and we may be headed in the right direction (at least I have to say that). 

LordTreeSap: Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State

Coach T and I are on the same page here. The Knicks have been searching for a point guard to power the offense since Stephon Marbury ate Vaseline on a live stream. Haliburton has won me over as a sound decision maker, explosive enough to get to and finish at the rim, and still nail his funky jumper. Sign me up to see if Tyrese can finally fill the lead guard void that has plagued us for eons.

9. Wizards

Coach T: Onyeka Okungwu, USC

Considered by some to be the best true “big man” in this draft, he is already an excellent defender and rim protector. With a healthy John Wall and Bradley Beal this year, the wizards should be an improved team. Look for them to improve their front court with Onyeka.

LordTreeSap: Patrick Williams, Florida State

When early mocks were coming out, I kept seeing Vassell as the top FSU prospect, but P-Will has shot up draft boards in recent months to become the top Seminole available. Williams is oozing with potential as a gritty, do-it-all forward on the floor who makes the right play. Boasting a nearly seven-foot wingspan and still being 18-years-old always helps as well.

10. Phoenix Suns

Coach T: Devin Vassell, Florida State

Okay Suns, no pressure. You have one of the best young talents in the league in Devin Booker who reportedly wants out. Don’t screw this up. Vassell is another one of those potential 3 and D players you can surround Booker with in order to help the Suns be successful. They have some nice young talent with Ayton. Add Vassell to the fold and see what happens.

LordTreeSap: Killian Hayes, France

Another very intriguing prospect who opted for the professional overseas route. My good friend at The Ringer Kevin O’Connor has Hayes as the top player on his big board and he should be in consideration for the Knicks as well. The push in his jump shot does scare me a bit, but he can create and has good size. What a situation this would be to walk into and learn behind Chris Paul as Phoenix makes a push for the post-season.

Why Killian Hayes Is the Best Prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft | The Restart  | The Ringer - YouTube

11. San Antonio Spurs

Coach T: Saddiq Bey, Villanova

Who knows who the Spurs will pick, but whoever they pick, will make an impact at some point, like they ALWAYS do. Bey comes from a great program in Villanova and is a nice complimentary player. He’s 6’8″ and is highly versatile on the floor. I’m sure Pop will find a creative way to make the most out of him.

LordTreeSap: Devin Vassell, Florida State

I’m always looking for 3-and-D players in the draft. Just inject them into my veins — every good team needs them to surround stars with shot making and doing the dirty work defensively. Vassell fits that mold and should be a nice fit with the Spurs. Two FSU Seminoles in the top 11 gives me a chance to just remind the people coach Lenny Hamilton has never made a Final Four.

12. Sacramento Kings

Coach T: R.J. Hampton, New Zealand

In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting players in the draft. One of the most highly rated prospects coming out of high school, Hampton took the Ball route playing overseas this past year. Hampton didn’t get to showcase much of his talent, but he sure has a lot of it. He’s raw, but if he develops, he won’t have many flaws in his game. He’d be a nice piece next to Fox as a 1-2 punch.

LordTreeSap: Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt

With the Kings moving on from Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield wanting out, Sacramento needs to find another two-guard/wing to supplement their losses and give Fox some help. Enter Vanderbilt’s Nesmith, who is the best shooter in the draft and should be a sniper in the NBA.

13. New Orleans Pelicans

Coach T: Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt

SVG! Great young core that should start to make waves soon. Let’s go with Nesmith here, who is one of the best shooters in the draft and would fit nicely next to Ball, Ingram, and Zion. Pelicans like to push the pace (whether SVG will want to or not) and this would be a great spot for him stretching the floor for Ingram and Zion to operate inside.

LordTreeSap: Kira Lewis Jr., Alabama

Goodbye Jrue Holiday, hello Kira Lewis Jr. I debated Kentucky’s Maxey here as well, but the speedster out of ‘Bama heads to the NOP. The Pelicans are in a great spot and add their potential point guard of the future here, who plays with reckless abandon when attacking the cup, if they decide to move on from Lonzo Ball.

14. Boston Celtics

Coach T: Killian Hayes, France

There’s a good chance he won’t be available here, but it’d be a nice pick here for the Celtics. He could play behind the likes of Kemba Walker, develop, and potentially be a long-term replacement down the road for Boston.

LordTreeSap: Jalen Smith, Maryland

Anyone that watched Boston knows they need help down low. Jalen Smith was a beast at Maryland. Anytime I watched him play Michigan he seemed to be a lock for a double-double and addicted to cleaning the glass. He could get away with being a smaller five if he bulks up a bit because he’s already a strong defender with a nonstop motor.

Is the NBA Luka Doncic’s League Already?

He has arrived. The first chapter in Luka Doncic’s legacy was written Sunday afternoon, as he rose up over Reggie Jackson with his signature stepback move to sink a game-winner at the OT buzzer to even the series at 2-2. Oh, and that 43pts-17rebs-13asts stat line was without Kristaps Porzingis on the floor and less than 48 hours after badly spraining his ankle.

Doncic powered the Mavs to erase a 21-point 2nd quarter deficit with some help from an unlikely supporting cast that included a combined 46 points from Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. One point Kenny “The Jet” Smith has made on TNT I agree with: Look at this restart with a clean slate like it’s Luka’s third season, rather than thinking of it being a continuation of his sophomore campaign.

How often do we see the superior team win that type of game? I’d argue about 90%. But Luka, being the transcendent talent he is, just wouldn’t let that happen. The 21-year-old is coming along far quicker than anyone expected, and my jaw drops just thinking about what his game is going to look like in just another 3 or 4 years.

A few nuggets on how special that performance was from Luka yesterday: He became the youngest player to drill a buzzer-beater in the playoffs. He joined Oscar Robertson and Charles Barkley to record 40-10-15+ in a playoff game. Doncic is now in the same breath as basketball royalty with Magic Johnson and LeBron James as the only players to put up multiple triple-doubles in the post-season at 21 or younger.

His vision and feel for the game are LeBron-esque. No matter the situation, Luka is totally in control at all times. What’s impressed me most has been his emotional makeup and moxie, as the Clippers have tried to intimidate Doncic on multiple occasions throughout the first four games. This isn’t 2007 anymore; you’re not going to bully the Europeans coming over who have played professionally since they were 16.

Game 1 saw Marcus Morris try to rough up Doncic, which unfortunately led to the ejection of Kristaps Porzingis. We’ve seen Montrezl Harrell call Luka a “Bitchass white boy,” which he’s also apologized to him for (please relax right wing Twitter), and it’s only made Doncic raise his game to another level. He’s even engaged in the trash talk a bit himself, as Luka hasn’t been afraid to scream “And 1” in Morris’s ear or call out Harrell for his flopping.

I don’t know if the Mavs can actually pull this thing off and eliminate the title favorite Clips (shoutout Pandemic P), but Dallas has to be giddy about the future with Doncic and Porzingis at the helm. If I was starting a franchise today, Luka would undoubtedly be my number one pick, and that’s something I don’t know I would’ve said in January.

Game 5 should be fun Tuesday night.

 

 

 

Previewing Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs Inside the Bubble

Take a look at our predictions for every first-round matchup in the playoffs.

The NBA returned inside the Orlando bubble at the end of July and things couldn’t have gone much smoother. Gameplay’s been intense, presentation for the fans feels like real games, and most importantly, ZERO players have tested positive for COVID-19 since August 5th.

The regular-season games have given us plenty of storylines, as the Blazers have been carried by Damian Lillard’s heroics playing as a man possessed, the undefeated Suns became basketball’s darlings, Russell Westbrook’s thigh injury has thrown a wrench into the Rockets championship dreams, and title favorites Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks don’t seem to be as much of Finals locks as we once thought back in March.

With the Blazers clinching the right to take their shot at the one-seeded Lakers on Saturday to fill out the playoff picture, check out our predictions for the entire first round below. Tip-off is slated for Monday at 1:30 pm ET with game 1 of the Nuggets-Jazz series.

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Eastern Conference:

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic

The bubble hasn’t been too kind to the hometeam Magic. Orlando, who went 3-5 in the restart, lost the promising Jonathan Isaac to a torn ACL, which should sideline him through next season. Milwaukee hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders since the restart, but cruised to the one-seed and now the real pressure is on for the favorite Bucks to roll through the Eastern Conference. Giannis has been on a mission this season (he’s the favorite for MVP and DPOY) and the Magic should be a light tune-up for him as Milwaukee sweeps.

Bucks in 4

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets

The 2019 champs are a bonafide threat to defend their throne and possibly repeat. I, for one, didn’t believe the Raptors would be this good (finished with the best winning percentage in franchise history) with Leonard heading to the West Coast, which should be a credit to my COTY Nick Nurse and the supporting cast taking their games to the next level.

As for the Nets, nobody could’ve seen a 5-3 bubble trip with a makeshift roster possible. Fans have to be thrilled with the team’s effort, but we know this is all about next year for them. Toronto’s size and depth should give the Nets fits all series, who shouldn’t leave Orlando with their heads hanging low.

Raptors in 4

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(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers

I want to throw up every time I think back to my pre-season prediction of having the 76ers coming out of the East, as Philly couldn’t be further from contenders right now. A logjam in the frontcourt and a coach that doesn’t know how to deploy his talent, and now minus Ben Simmons combined with a banged-up Embiid, this is the recipe for disaster in Philly. Tatum and Brown have evolved into a dynamic duo on the wing to lead the C’s. As long as Kemba and Hayward stay healthy, this team has a shot to make some noise in the East.

Celtics in 5

(4) Indiana Pacers vs. (5) Miami Heat

This will be the most competitive series in the East. A pair of teams that overperformed this year. Most people will be drawn to the theatrics of Jimmy Butler vs. Bubble MVP T.J. Warren, but my focus is on MIP candidate Bam Adebayo’s ability to control both ends and sharpshooters Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson pushing the Heat over the top to take a hard-fought 7-game series. Miami also has the coaching advantage with Spo > Nate McMillan.

Heat in 7

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Western Conference:

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

This isn’t your typical 1-8 matchup. Every Blazer game has felt like a playoff game, as they roll into the post-season on a four-game winning streak. At times, their defense has been dreadful against lesser competition, so I fully expect LeBron to dominate this series and get whatever he pleases when exploiting Portland’s forwards. On the flip side, the Lakers don’t have anyone to answer for Dame, who should be able to steal a game or two by himself with his Bubble MVP heroics. Let’s just hope his tank doesn’t run out of gas (Blazers were a -13 on Saturday against the Grizzlies during his THREE MINUTES on the bench).

Lakers in 6

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(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

A lot has been made of this juicy series with the dazzling future MVP Luka Doncic writing the first chapter in his playoff journal. In his way stands the title favorite Clippers, who have yet to be at full strength inside the bubble, as Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell is expected to make his debut.

Even with a historically good offense (highest offensive efficiency rating ever), Dallas has been atrocious in late-game execution, as they rank in the bottom of the league in games decided by five points or less. This should be a great learning experience for Luka, Porzingis, and co. but the Clips dispose of Dallas in five.

Clippers in 5

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Utah Jazz

If this series is anything like their earlier double-OT thriller in the bubble, it should be a classic. Two-man chess matches between Donovan Mitchell and Gobert clashing with the Joker and Jamal Murray are going to be the focus for both coaches, but look for the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. to lift the Nuggets. Injuries to both teams make for a bit of uncertainty, as the returns of Gary Harris Jr. and Will Barton are still up in the air, while Mike Conley just left the bubble to see the birth of his child and will miss at least the first three games most likely.

Nuggets in 6

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(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder

It’s pretty simple; how long is Russell Westbrook out with his thigh injury? If he’s back by early next week, Houston is in good shape. If he’s out for the entire series, the Rockets are in deep trouble. We all know how much Chris Paul wants to stick it to Houston for trading him and how ironic would it be for the Thunder to finally get out of the first round now instead of the Russell Westbrook-PG era.

James Harden is going to put up astronomical numbers, but will he get enough help? Mike D’Antoni is fully committed to the small-ball experiment, so my x-factor for the Thunder will be Steven Adams. Does he get exposed and need to spend a lot of the series on the bench, or does he wreak havoc as a bully on the offensive glass?

Rockets in 7

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Dame Time: With the World at a Standstill, Lillard Finally Getting the Respect He Deserves

“Put some respect on my fucking name,” Lillard barked after leading the Blazers to another crucial 134-131 victory over the Mavs to keep their playoff hopes alive. With the stakes higher than ever and the public microscope gleaming on him, it’s only brought out the best in No. 0.

Lillard tied his career-best with 61 points (22 in the 4th quarter!!) and made history by joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only NBA players ever to post three 60+ point efforts in one season.

Following his missed free throws as part of the Clippers debacle last week, Dame Time has been fully in session, as he’s carried Portland with back-to-back 50+ point games and a pair of victories to keep the Blazers in the driver’s seat to clinch the 8-seed with a win on Thursday vs. the Nets. That’s 112 points in 81 minutes for those keeping score at home and the 10 and 11th 50-point games of his career, which ties him with Allen Iverson for 8th most all-time.

“When I first came here, I told you I didn’t come here to waste my time. They gave us a chance to get in like we asked for, and that’s what we’re here to do. The job still ain’t done, but I said, ‘You know what I’m here for.’ Our work ain’t done yet, but we fighting for it,” he told TNT’s Chris Haynes after the win.

As someone who lets his game usually do the talking, unless he’s in the studio, it’s been awesome to see Dame unleash on detractors while backing it up on the hardwood (averaging 37 points and 9.3 assists inside the bubble).

After calling out Paul George for switching teams and “running from the grind,” Logo Lillard then turned his focus to ethering the fraudulent Skip Bayless with an absolute haymaker on Monday. Not many things this pandemic have made me happier than seeing Skip getting put on his ass with an eviscerating knockout punch of a tweet from Lillard. Take that, old man!

The 30-year-old’s had several prolific “moments” in his career, as walk-off shots to defeat the Rockets (2014) and Thunder last year in the playoffs come to mind when the basketball world was in his palms. With Portland playing on the West Coast, it’s easy for Lillard’s late-night heroics to be reduced to an Instagram clip for followers to take in the next morning.

But this feels different, as the world’s stuck in a five-month standstill, every Blazer game has been must-watch cinema, and Lillard is the A-list star of the show. He seems to finally be getting the mainstream praise and collecting the accolades he’s quite honestly deserved for years. I have him on my All-NBA first team in the guard spot alongside Harden and conversations of him usurping the point guard throne from Steph Curry are bubbling on social media, as Steph and the Warriors have taken a gap year.

The job isn’t done just yet, as the Blazers still need to defeat the Nets on Thursday then win one of the possible two play-in games over the weekend to have the right to face the one-seeded Lakers. If all goes according to plan, Lillard should be the regular season Bubble MVP. This also wouldn’t be your typical 1 vs. 8 matchup, as L.A. has issues of their own to sort out. Being a student of the game, LeBron’s definitely taken note of Dame’s run and knows they don’t have any sort of answer for Lillard at the guard spot defensively.

Oh, and as a gift to fans, Dame and Adidas teamed up to make his Dame 6 sneakers on sale for $61 just for Wednesday in honor of his performance last night.

 

 

Remembering the Late Wrestling Superstar ‘Kamala’

Another great has left us. The Ugandan Giant Kamala, whose real name was James Harris, died this weekend at age 70. Despite being from Mississippi, he had many fans convinced that he was just an uncivilized savage. A lot of people who got to know him had nice things to say. It seems that most considered him a gentle giant.

Kamala feuded with the biggest (literally and figuratively) stars in wrestling. His first WWF stint featured matches against Andre The Giant. In 1986, Kamala returned to the World Wrestling Federation. Again, a string of three bouts against a rival at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens culminated with a steel cage match. This time, the opponent was Hulk Hogan. These two wrestled twice at Madison Square Garden. Both cards were sold out. A match between Hogan and Kamala at Boston Garden also brought a sold-out crowd. There were even bouts between Kamala and King Kong Bundy. It was very odd for two major stars who were both bad guys to battle at that time, but this only added to the intrigue.

I can remember being on vacation in 1987 and watching wrestling from a store television as Paul Roma and Jim Powers were on the receiving end of top rope splashes from Kamala. My eyes were glued to the action. Kamala’s team was counted out, but it didn’t matter. The message was sent. This man needed to be feared. Hulk Hogan had a title defense on NBC against Sika less than two months later. It seemed like an odd and random match.

Years later, I found out that Sika was a substitute for Kamala. This would have been an awesome match with incredible hype. That was the night when Hulk Hogan became friends with Randy Savage after Elizabeth ran back for help. She was brutally shoved down by the Honky Tonk Man. Hogan came out and was triple-teamed before gaining the advantage. I remember a comment about how Hogan could possibly lose his title after he already had been worn down. You couldn’t really buy in. However, if Kamala was his opponent, you could believe!

In September of 1987, Kamala left the WWF over frustrations with his pay. He claimed that they would tell him none or only a small amount of his action figures sold. Between the crowds he drew with Hogan and his action figures, Kamala should have been well compensated. I wish he had stuck around longer for selfish reasons. His third WWF stint was much different. Kamala became a good guy, but lost most of his matches. The character became a joke. It made no sense. The character didn’t know how to roll over opponents and pin them. He had been doing it for years. Pretty ridiculous. Even for wrestling. There was one other major feud before his face turn. Kamala battled the Undertaker. Their match at Survivor Series was the first-ever televised casket match. They also met a few months earlier at Summerslam. Kamala claimed that he was paid $13,000 for that bout, while Undertaker’s pay was $500,000.

Although his wrestling run as a good guy was awful, there is one funny moment that lives on. Kamala learning to bowl is pretty funny.

There were numerous health battles in Kamala’s life. Each leg was amputated below the knee in recent years. Last week he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Four days later, he was gone. His death apparently took place in Brooklyn. I had no idea that he was there. If his health was better and we were in different times, it would have been very cool to see him. Definitely one of my favorite characters ever. Rest in peace, big man.

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Sabrina Ionescu is Already a Superstar

On April 17, 2020 36 names were due to be called for the WNBA draft. There was a lot of tension and even more mystery. Who would be the steal? What playoff contender was going to get THE piece to push them to the top? Would there even really be a season with the COVID-19 pandemic running virtually unchecked throughout the country?

There were so many questions, it was good to know there was one certainty: Sabrina Ionescu was going to be the first name off the board. The Oregon star shocked a lot of people when she went back to school after a junior season in which she essentially rewrote the record books and wanted to fulfill her dream of winning a national title. She was primed to do so alongside a historically great Oregon team, and then the world went berserk and the season was finished, leaving a dream unfulfilled. She finished her career as the first player of any gender to attain 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in their careers.

With the draft over, and Sabrina a member of the Liberty, it was now a matter of how good she was going to be. Yes, you can dominate the college game but it’s easier to get assists when you’re flanked by the #2 (Satou Sabally) and #8 (Ruthy Hebard) overall picks. It’s also easier to score when defenses can’t collapse on you because they have to respect everyone around you more. We heard it all. Most importantly, Sabrina heard it all too, and she took notes.

It can’t be easy making your mark as a rookie in any league. When your star is as bright as Sabrina’s, you often get some…err, tough love, and this was no exception.

Could you imagine showing up to your new job in IT and the guy who’s been there forever and who is friends with everyone in the office comes right at your neck like this? It would be easy to be intimidated. And who was her first game against? Look no farther than Sue Bird’s Seattle Storm. Ionescu went 4-17 from the floor as Seattle refused to give her an ounce of space. This would become a recurring theme over their next few games. Was Sabrina just nervous? Was there a simple solution to shutting her down? Had the riddle been solved?

Let’s ask the Dallas Wings for a consult on that, who were the victims of Sabrina’s breakout game. Ionescu went out and dropped a 33-7-7 line without a second thought, and captivated the basketball world. This was it – the moment that a generational talent finally arrived. This was history incarnate – it felt significantly more “LeBron goes for 25-9-6 in his first career game” than it did “Brandon Jennings going for 55 points in his 7th career game” – the next WNBA Superstar had arrived. Ionescu tore up the Wings with the savvy of a 10 year vet, and did it putting the weight of the entire team on her back, flashing everything in her bag that made her worthy of the #1 overall pick – distribution, control, energy, a hyper awareness and game sense years beyond her age – it was something that a 22 year old rookie shouldn’t be able to do. Ionescu just has IT. Whatever “it” is, Sabrina has it in spades, and you can see that in all it’s glory in this 12 second clip:

This is the look and effort of someone who knows that one of the game’s biggest stars called her a pussy for the world to see. This was only the beginning of something special. Then, in a flash, it wasn’t.

Ionescu suffered a potentially season-ending ankle sprain in the Liberty’s matchup with the Atlanta Dream, in only Ionescu’s third career game. The Dream would go on to win by 6. Under normal circumstances, she would miss about a month or so and it would not be a death knell to her year. The Liberty have looked absolutely lost without their floor general and best player, and at this point you can feel comfortable saying that the season is not going to be salvageable for this team. The best they can hope for is to remain competitive and try to find out who’s good enough to earn minutes flanking their new superstar. Even if Ionescu is back before the end of the season, how much is that development going to help her if she’s not 100% or if the team has checked out?

Now that the Liberty have their superstar, the easy part is over, as the Liberty look to rebuild after an offseason in which they traded Tina Charles and fired their head coach Katie Smith. The return of Asia Durr next season should be a significant boost, but to quote Hamilton here (yes, this is a humble brag that I paid $7 for a month of Disney+ before cancelling my subscription so I could understand your tweets), “fighting is easy, governing is harder”. The here-and-now of the Liberty is in place, now it’s all about the future. How do you manage and build around a player who’s skillset is unlike almost anything ever seen in the WNBA? Time will tell. You only needed 3 games to tell that Sabrina has it. It will take longer to get the rest in place.

10 Players To Watch During the NBA’s Restart Inside the Orlando Bubble

It’s been 138 days since the NBA was shut down on March 11 following the unforgettable scene in Oklahoma City which saw Rudy Gobert test positive for COVID-19 as a harsh reality for the pandemic began to set in.

That horrifying number will (hopefully) be no more on Thursday when the Pelicans and Jazz tip-off serving as the official restart of the NBA regular season inside the Orlando bubble, which just might bring a tear to my eye.

Instead of doing an official playoff preview just yet (I’ll save that for August), I wanted to highlight 10 under-the-radar players who just might win their team a playoff game and could be someone you may have forgotten about during the layoff.

If you’re looking for star players like ‘Bron or Kawhi on this list, you’d be better suited just turning on FS1 and listening to Colin Cowherd talk about how Russell Westbrook and James Harden aren’t a top 10 NBA duo.

1. Gary Trent Jr. – Portland Trailblazers

Gary Trent Jr. became one of my favorite hidden gems coming off the bench this season. Ever since his 30-point explosion back in mid-January against the Thunder, the former Blue Devil has been an integral part of the Blazers’ rotation. That trend should only continue for the playoff-hopeful squad, as Trent Jr. put up 12 ppg and shot 41% from behind the arc during the month of February. He’s also a rock-solid defender on the wing.

P.S. My only issue with GT was seeing him on the virtual blackjack machines in the Bahamas. As a millionaire, it’s time to move to the legit high roller tables, my guy! 

2. Ben McLemore – Houston Rockets

When your career needs to be revived, every offensive-minded player should give Mike D’Antoni a call. MDA gave a lifeline to another career that was on its last breaths with Ben McLemore this season, who evolved into a sniper for the three-point happy Rockets this season. Averaging just under 10 ppg on 40% from three, McLemore’s brought his magic to Disney, as he lit up the Grizzlies during Sunday night’s scrimmage for 26 points on 6-7 from downtown.

3. Bol Bol – Denver Nuggets

Bol Bol is one of the early winners from the NBA restart. After not playing a game this season in Denver, Bol exploded onto the NBA Twitter scene with highlight-worthy plays on both ends of the floor, which flooded IG timelines in the first couple of scrimmages while starting in the BACKCOURT!! with Nikola Jokic. Seeing that untapped potential on display could vault Bol into a secret weapon type of role for Mike Malone’s deep Denver Nuggets.

4. Seth Curry – Dallas Mavericks

For quite possibly the first time in his entire life, the stage will now entirely be set for Seth to shine without overshadowing from older brother Steph anywhere in sight. With Luka and Porzingis occupying the defense’s focus, three-point assassins like Seth Curry become indispensable. Seth was 2nd in the entire NBA while shooting 45% from downtown and the Mavs are going to need him to be lights out in Orlando to spread the floor.

5. J.R. Smith – Los Angeles Lakers

J.R. Spliff is back!!! After going unsigned the entire 2019 season, the Lakers finally decided to listen to me and roll the dice on Earl and reunite him with LeBron inside the bubble. For that reason alone, we need a documentary on the Lakers’ Orlando playoff run. With Avery Bradley opting out and Rondo injured, L.A. will be heavily relying on the likes of J.R., Alex Caruso, KCP, and Dion Waiters to supplement A.D. and Lebron with outside shooting late in games. Smith’s microwave scoring ability came to life on Monday with 14 points in the first half of their scrimmage against the Wizards.

6. Matisse Thybulle – Philadelphia 76ers

One of the most unique young players in the NBA. Matisse not only shines on the court as a lockdown defender, but he’s also become a YouTube sensation off the floor with his Welcome to the Bubble VLOG series, which he shoots and edits himself. The rookie’s versatility on the defensive end and streaky shooting will be needed to help power the Sixers, as coach Brett Brown has his hands full regarding how to best deploy his talented arsenal of weapons.

7. Duncan Robinson – Miami Heat

From Division III standout, to Michigan 6th man, and now a top 100 NBA player, according to Bleacher Report‘s latest rankings. Stories like Duncan’s are to be celebrated, as he landed in the perfect spot to flourish under the tutelage of Eric Spoelstra, Pat Riley, and co. in breezy South Beach. Another 45% shooter from three makes the list, and a bright future is definitely ahead for the Michigan man. Admittedly, I didn’t think there was a chance DR would be an NBA player during his time as a Wolverine.

8. Luguentz Dort – Oklahoma City Thunder

Lu Dort is a name you might not be familiar with if you haven’t caught many Thunder games this year, as I had no clue who he was coming into the season and only found out about him through my brother after watching him pop off the screen one night. Dort has a knack for making good things happen on the floor, as OKC went 16-5 once Billy Donovan inserted him into the starting lineup and management rewarded the Canada native with a four-year extension for his efforts.

9. Jonathan Isaac – Orlando Magic

With the potential to be transcendingly special on the defensive end, Jonathan Isaac’s breakout campaign was forced to take a detour following a devastating knee sprain on New Year’s Day. After the shutdown’s extended layoff, the Florida State product has been cleared for action to participate in the bubble scrimmages, which should bring a smile to Magic fans’ faces if there’s any still out there. During his return to the hardwood Monday night, JI managed 13 points and grabbed 7 boards in just 7 MINUTES on the floor.

10. Norman Powell – Toronto Raptors

Another underrated cog in COTY candidate Nick Nurse’s army that somehow has Toronto back in the mix for an Eastern Conference run even without Kawhi Leonard. Powell would have a case for 6th Man of the Year but ended up starting 21 games. When returning from an injury in late February, Powell posted five straight box scores with at least 22 points to give the starting five unit a jolt before the shutdown.

Bad Pizza, Ripping Utah’s Hearts Out & Leaving a 7th Ring on the Table Bring ‘The Last Dance’ to a Close

Once again a topic from The Last Dance has actually taken off after the show. Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” might have actually been the “Food Poisoning Game.” Well, maybe. Apparently this pizza rumor was already out there, but we hear about it in great detail. This story has gone in all different directions. We’re told that five people showed up to deliver Jordan’s pizza. However, a man has since stated that he made the pizza and wanted to personally deliver it. Just two people total. This guy said he is a Bulls fan, and disputes that something was intentionally done to cause Jordan harm when he ate his dinner.

Jason Hehir directed the ESPN documentary, and added that Michael spit on the pizza to prevent anyone else from eating it since they had already eaten without him. This part was another subject that didn’t make the final cut. I’ll get back to what else was left out later. There is also a rumor that Jordan went to Vegas and was hungover. I don’t know what to believe. WFAN’s Joe Benigno talked about how he felt at the time. Joe didn’t think anything was wrong with Michael. Another host chimed in after the latest story came out. Craig Fite is the Chicago fan who spoke about making Jordan’s pizza. Fite said he bet on the Bulls, and obviously would not poison Jordan. WFAN’s Maggie Gray could not understand why somebody would bet on the Bulls. This is probably the dumbest take I have heard in quite some time. Nobody bets favorites. The team that is expected to win. Your favorite team. The one that has won championships before and would do so again. I’m not even getting into series prices and spreads. Sometimes she makes me want to rip out my remaining hair.

SB Nation on Twitter: "The Kings brought up an old food poisoning ...

Hearing about Jordan’s ordeal brought me back to 2002. I took Sacramento in game 2 after they lost to Kobe’s Lakers in the opener. Bryant was suffering from food poisoning. The spread seemed to indicate that he would either be out or most likely ineffective. Bryant played more minutes than any of his teammates. Sacramento covered by hitting late free throws. I searched to find information on the game, and stumbled upon a new conspiracy theory. An article said that a New Jersey mob guy was the one responsible for Kobe’s food poisoning. Supposedly there was a heavy mob bet on the Nets to win it all. Or, you could believe another story in that article. Kobe was too drunk to even find his hotel room.

This weekend’s episodes opened with footage of the feisty Pacers-Bulls rivalry. Reggie Miller and MJ going at it. Mark Jackson gets a ball thrown at him. No mention of how Jackson was on both teams that took Jordan to 7 during his championship seasons. Patrick Ewing used to lose and afterwards say that his Knicks were the better team. Miller said this about his Pacers. At least they went right down to the wire in a game 7 on the road. Speaking of Patrick, there was a trivia question about Jordan eliminating HOF players. It claims that he knocked out Ewing 4 times. It was actually 5 if you count 1989. That wasn’t a title season for Chicago. Throw in the college days if you want one more Ewing loss to MJ.

Since I referenced things being left out a couple times so far, I’ll get into that. The teams split games 5 and 6. That was their way of skipping over Jordan falling down late in game 6 against Indiana. As the documentary rolled on, it seemed like the blatant omissions became even more egregious. MJ hits a winning shot at the buzzer against Utah to begin the 1997 NBA Finals. Nothing about Karl Malone’s missed free throws just before that. Scottie Pippen said, “The Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays.” Totally left out. They didn’t even put that Jordan finished up with Washington when listing how players moved on after 1998.

Dan Patrick talked about Jordan’s career on WFAN. He took a shot at the 90s Knicks. I have tried to explain how people thought they were ruining basketball. Ratings dropped. Rules were changed. It’s funny how Detroit didn’t seem to get this criticism. There was a 1994 Sports Illustrated cover saying that the NHL was hot, and by contrast the NBA was not. Obviously MJ went through the Knicks quite often. Basketball really suffered when he wasn’t around. Patrick’s point was about how low NBA scores were. Cleveland limited possessions by draining the shot clock. Final scores were often around 80 points. James Harden might put up impressive offensive numbers when his team scores 120-130 points. Jordan would likely average much more in today’s game with higher final scores.

You knew we would see that MJ was motivated to face different players. Malone won an MVP. Bryon Russell made a comment when Jordan was retired. Good thing these players gave Michael some extra motivation. I’m not sure if he would have been able to take the NBA Finals seriously. MJ somehow had the urgency when he won the MVP award all those years. You can tell that certain things were wearing on me as this documentary was winding down. Jordan also brought back his old security buddy. Gus Lett returned to inspire MJ in game 7 against the Pacers. Lett died in 2000 after a long battle with cancer.

We learned about the murder of Steve Kerr’s father in Beirut 36 years ago. That was clearly the most emotional part of these latest episodes. Kerr said that he never discussed this with Jordan. It was unfortunately something they had in common. Kerr talked about John Paxson taking Steve under his wing. I often thought of Steve as the later version of John on that team. Steve mentioned his early years with Cleveland. I became a fan of his back then. He threw in a long heave against the Nets, and seemed like a Mark Price clone to me.

Dennis Rodman always has to cause trouble. He missed practice during the 1998 NBA Finals so he could attend a wrestling show. Maybe I should rephrase that. He participated in a wrestling show. I liked Phil Jackson’s response about it being a distraction. Players play. They don’t sit around crying about something stupid. Unless you are Bill Cartwright getting upset that Scottie Pippen asked out. Media members will keep asking if something is going to be a distraction. Maybe, if they keep bringing it up. Anyway, Jackson said it might be a distraction for the reporter.

Scottie Pippen had an injured back against Utah in the 1998 series clincher. He was only able to score 8 points. Tough to kill him for it, but with that guy somehow it was always something. Migraine in game 7 against Detroit. Not wanting to ruin his summer and missing regular season games because surgery was put off. The infamous final 1.8 seconds of a virtual must-win contest during the 1994 playoffs. Dealing with Pippen and Rodman only adds to Jordan’s legacy in my opinion.

The Time Michael Jordan Almost JOINED The NEW YORK KNICKS! - YouTube

One ridiculous Jordan story is that he would have missed time in 1999 due to a severed tendon in his finger. He suffered the injury attempting to cut a cigar. People argued that playing only 50 games would have helped Chicago, but I just don’t see how it could have worked. Apparently Phil Jackson was not interested in waiting through a rebuilding stage. That’s what I figured based on his reputation.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said just that Sunday. The relationship with GM Jerry Krause seemed damaged beyond repair. Michael might have thought he could convince Pippen to return for another year, but Scottie was going to get paid. He definitely wanted big money and a long deal. Scottie was starting to break down, and big bucks were finally coming his way. Jordan and Phil were pretty spent. They could have tried to reload, but there were certainly changes coming. I think Reinsdorf had no interest in breaking the bank for potentially one more championship. He had told Jackie MacMullan that they wouldn’t be the 90s Celtics. That team got old and guys were injured. It ended unceremoniously.

Utah coach Jerry Sloan did not come off looking very sharp. He apparently had no idea that Jordan was less than 100 percent, although Michael still played well. Jordan wasn’t just a decoy. The Jazz only scored 54 points in one of their losses. Sloan looks down and asks if that was really the score. I’m not sure if Sloan was kidding either time. Karl Malone has asked people to say prayers for Jerry. The coach has had health issues in recent years. Jerry has battled Parkinson’s disease and dementia since 2016. Speaking on a 90s NBA Zoom call, Malone said that Sloan is not doing well.

Watching highlights from Chicago’s games against Utah and Indiana brought me back to my early days betting NBA games. There were some close calls each way. One of my friends took the Bulls giving 5.5 in one game. He lost on a shot at the buzzer. Scott Van Pelt played it along with Uncle Brent’s radio call for a final vintage Bad Beats segment.

In recent days there has been a video circulating of Bob Costas putting a bow on the Chicago dynasty. He knew that it was at least possibly their last run. I can remember Bob speaking after the 1993 championship. He speculated that perhaps they could come back for a fourth straight title and be known as the “Quad Squad.” It would have been interesting if that really happened. I wonder if Costas trademarked the phrase. Hopefully I can speak with him one day. I have a lot of questions. We can get into his classic 1989 interview with Bobby Heenan.

Finally, there was an interesting exchange between Jordan and Larry Bird after the Pacers-Bulls series. Colorful language. It really was strange to hear the curses flying on ESPN. Getting back to 1993, I vividly remember watching a press conference after Phoenix stayed alive with a win in Chicago. Businesses were boarding up windows in anticipation of a wild celebration. Charles Barkley told people that they could take the “stuff” off their windows. It always stuck with me. I never expected ESPN to air this clip 27 years later. Especially an unedited version. 2020 certainly has been unpredictable.

With that, I thank you for taking the time to read this. Hopefully you enjoyed the documentary and my recaps.