Quarterfinals set as NBA 2K Players Tournament heats up

The quarterfinals for the NBA 2K Players Tournament – a partnership between the league and NBA 2K being held since the actual season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic – is now set after four more contests were staged Sunday.  

Moving on: Montrezl Harrell, who beat Domantas Sabonis; Rui Hachimura, who beat Donovan Mitchell; Devin Booker, who beat Michael Porter Jr.; and Andre Drummond, who beat DeMarcus Cousins. The four players join the four others who moved on in competition Friday night. 

Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers) and Sabonis (Indiana Pacers) became the first players in the tournament to use their actual teams. But Harrell proved to be a better player than Sabonis, who nonetheless was self-deprecating and a good sport throughout his 73-51 loss. 

Sabonis joked that "they got to skip through our game" when the first quarter ended with Harrell up just 14-8. He also quipped that the game was rigged when virtual teammate Myles Turner was slow running back in transition. He eventually proposed late in the game that "if I get (the deficit) down to 10, I win." 

“He sucks! He really sucks!” – Domantas Sabonis after he shoots with HIMSELF as he faces off against Montrezl Harrell on 2K šŸ¤£šŸ˜­ pic.twitter.com/ntzX7PXRaB

The matchup with Hachimura, a rookie for the Washington Wizards, and Mitchell, the Jazz star who was among the NBA players publicly diagnosed with COVID-19 – from which he's since recovered – was the closest of the tournament to date. Hachimura, using the Lakers, edged Mitchell, using the Nets, 74-71. Mitchell had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but it wouldn't go.  

A thrilling finish to Donovan Mitchell’s @spidadmitchell NBA 2K game against the Rui Hachimura, but Donovan’s Brooklyn Nets team loses by 3 to Hachimura’s Lakers and he is out of the tournament. pic.twitter.com/UlUgT8F3MY

Rui Hachimura got his own waterboy for the #NBA2KTourney šŸ˜‚ pic.twitter.com/PLpswVSFDr

In a competitive contest, Booker outlasted Porter Jr. 85-75. Porter had selected the Lakers, which made Booker – a noted fan of video games, particularly first-person shooters – pick the Bucks.   

The final contest was a rout, as Drummond (using the Lakers) crushed Cousins (using the Nets), 101-49.

There was a moment of levity, though, when Alex Caruso came up. The Lakers guard, who was a teammate of Cousins' this year prior to the big man's release – Cousins was injured and did not play for L.A. – has become a cult hero of sorts in Los Angeles, and Drummond asked about him.

"A.C. the GOAT," Cousins replied.  

Boogie said Caruso’s the šŸ @ACFresh21#NBA2KTourneypic.twitter.com/cCSjN4E4ci

The quarterfinal matchups, with each player's seeding (which was determined by their NBA 2K rating; if ratings were the same, tenure in league was used): 

Derrick Jones Jr. (16) vs. Montrezl Harrell (8)

Devin Booker (5) vs. Rui Hachimura (13) 

Trae Young (2) vs. Deandre Ayton (10)

Andre Drummond (6) vs. Patrick Beverley (14)  

The winner of the tournament will receive $100,000 to donate to a charity connected to coronavirus relief efforts. The quarterfinals, which remain single elimination, kick off Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.  

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NBA, Knicks, Nets team up to contribute 1 million surgical masks to New York workers

The NBA, inĀ collaboration withĀ the Knicks, theĀ Nets and China’s consul general, Huang Ping, is contributing 1 million surgical masks to help New York workers fight the coronavirus.

New York has been hit hard by the coronavirus (COVID-19), with more than 3,500 deaths and the number of recorded cases exceeding 113,000.

“New York thanks you. We are beyond grateful for this gift of critically needed PPE (personal protective equipment),” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote Saturday on Twitter.

The NBA suspended itsĀ season on March 11 because of the pandemic.

GREER: Trump’s optimism on NFL start doesn’t mean anything

President Donald Trump said Saturday he was unsure when sports would resume in the U.S., but he said he thinks it will be “sooner rather than later.” Trump conducted a conference call earlier in the day with the commissioners of theĀ major U.S. pro sports leagues and other sports executives.

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LeBron James' first meeting with Zion Williamson had same feeling as Kobe vs MJ, says Mike Tuck

Sky Sports NBA analyst Mike Tuck picks his top three games of the 2019-20 NBA season, with LeBron Jamesā€™ first meeting with Zion Williamson topping on his list.

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‘LeBron’s first meeting with Zion had same feeling as Kobe’s first encounter with Jordan’

New Orleans Pelicans 109-118 Los Angeles Lakers, February 25, 2020

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Jazz undergo layoffs amid coronavirus stoppage

  • Host of The Woj Pod
  • Joined ESPN in 2017

As part of larger corporate cutbacks amid the coronavirus pandemic, layoffs are underway within the Utah Jazz.

Those cutbacks include non-basketball personnel, and some employees are taking salary reductions, sources told ESPN.

The Jazz are one of approximately 80 companies within the Larry H. Miller Group, which confirmed the layoffs as “a small percentage of our workforce” in a statement on Friday afternoon.

The Jazz are the first NBA organization to make layoffs, but several others are considering the possibility, sources said. The NBA has been shut down since March 11, and there are no assurances that the season can resume.

“Due to the impact on our customer-facing businesses from this unprecedented pandemic, the (Miller Group) …. unfortunately had to make difficult decisions to reduce a small percentage of our workforce. Over the past several weeks, we have worked to manage and reduce costs, including executive compensation, and have reached a point where we have had to say farewell to a limited number of our valued employees.

“We have connected with our associates with outplacement services and aligned them with employers who have immediate hiring needs. We remain focused on helping our communities stay healthy.”

Last month, the Philadelphia 76ers had announced salary reductions for employees making over $50,000 a year, but reversed course shortly afterward because of strong internal and external criticism.

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How Staples Center fund is helping concession workers, others during coronavirus shutdown: ‘Burden being lifted’

She has spent the past three weeks worrying about her health, her bills and her family’s well-being during the novel coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, Adelaide Avila’s unemployment anxiety somewhat dissipated — she received a paycheck.

“That’s a huge burden being lifted off for the time being,” Avila said.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Kings, along with Staples Center, established a fund to pay all full-time and part-time workers affected by the NBA and NHL suspending their seasons because of COVID-19.The fund is around $7 million for the 2,800 Staples Center employees, a person familiar with the terms told USA Today Sports.

The person said the fund helps the arena’s full-time employees (ushers, ticket takers, security personnel) and third-party vendors (janitors, parking lot attendants, concession workers). That person was granted anonymity since he was not authorized to discuss the terms publicly.

That fund has significantly helped Avila, who has worked as a cashier for the past 15 years. She received a check for $964 after taxes on Friday, which covered one Lakers game, two Clippers games, three Kings games and three NCAA men’s basketball regional games she would have worked if not for season suspensions or cancellations.

Her last check on March 20 was worth around $1,300 after taxes and covered games she worked before the season suspensions, as well as three Lakers games, three Clippers games and three Kings games that went unplayed. She also will receive a check to cover three Lakers games, four Clippers games and one Kings game that were scheduled between the latest pay period.

Because of those checks and additional unemployment compensation, Avila said she can afford to pay an undisclosed amount of bills to support herself, her two children and her 76-year-old mother. She said she has enough to pay her rent and for gas to make the bi-weekly drive to visit her mom. And she said she received approval to defer payments on her car, car insurance and health insurance.

“It did mean a little bit more time to focus on my mom and not be so focused on myself with what am I going to do about my rent and what am I going to do about my bills,” Avila said. “That’s a lot of pressure that relieves my mind.”

It does not relieve her mind entirely. Staples Center has not determined whether it will pay its full-time employees and third-party vendors after April 17, since the NBA and NHL have yet to officially determine whether they will cancel a potential postseason. Lineage Logistics plans to help the arena’s full-time workers and fill 260 open jobs for which Lineage is hiring in the Los Angeles area. Staples Center concession workers are employed by Levy Restaurants.

“There definitely should be that communication to make sure they’re being taken care of, no matter how long it takes,” said Maria Hernandez, a spokesperson for Unite Here Local 11, the union that represents concession workers at Staples Center, Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium. “I don’t know what they are planning on doing. But it’s great what they are doing now.”

What Staples Center and its tenants have done is more generous compared to other venues. Unite Here launched a petition for the Dodgers and Angels to emulate their approach, which had 2,259 signatures Friday morning. Nonetheless, Avila admitted, “what I’m going to get paid is not going to be enough to pay for all my expenses.”

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That explains why she has spent her free time applying for various jobs online. Avila has expressed reservations, however, because she wants to follow the social distancing rules to ensure she, her mother and children do not become infected with COVID-19.

“I am a little bit nervous about taking a position, especially when you hear people at the grocery store are now being affected,” Avila said. “Those were places I would consider to go to work. But now it’s a place I’m not sure I want to go to work. It’s a scary situation.”

She experienced that anxiety less than a month ago. She worked at the Kings-Ottawa Senators game March 11, the same day the NBA suspended play after Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronvarius. Six Ottawa players tested positive, along with two unnamed Lakers and four Nets players. That week, Staples Center had set up sanitizer stations around the arena and urged employees to employ social distancing practices.

“We were super cautious,” Avila said. “Every 15 minutes, we were wiping down counters. We wore gloves. It was a surreal scene. In the whole 15 years I’ve been to Staples Center, we’ve never had to do that before.”

As much as Avila wants to return to work at Staples Center, she won’t feel comfortable working under those conditions again. The NBA and NHL have said they are adhering to guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine whether they can salvage any of their season.

Until then, Avila is relieved that Staples Center and its tenants have eased her anxiety for a few extra weeks.

“I’m grateful to be safe, grateful for my health and grateful for the teams that helped us in this time of need,” she said. “Hopefully we can get back to work soon.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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LaMelo Ball buys struggling Illawarra Hawks: report

The Illawarra Hawks have been bought by their star recruit LaMelo Ball and his business manager, Jermaine Jackson, according to media reports.

"We own the team," Jackson told ESPN on Thursday.

LaMelo Ball’s manager has announced that the NBA prospect has bought the Illawarra Hawks.Credit:Getty

"It's a done deal."

Earlier this week, the NBL had been on stand-by to take over the licence of the Hawks following the reported collapse of Simon Stratford's ownership of the club.

Stratford formerly held a minority share but took full ownership in February 2018 after telecommunications entrepreneur James Spenceley sold his 51 per cent stake.

NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger announced on Tuesday they were committed to the club remaining in the competition.

But it now appears point guard Ball, who moved to Australia in August as part of the league's Next Stars initiative, has stepped in to buy the franchise, although the club have yet to comment.

Jackson, who spent five years in the NBA, said it was because financial issues were impacting on the team that they decided to purchase it.

"They opened their arms to him," Jackson said.

"They made us feel like we are at home.When we started hearing about the issues they were going through, we talked about it and decided, 'Let's own the team.'

"He is going to be locked into his NBA career, but we are going to hire the right people to oversee everything. He wants to create the best basketball program possible for that community there."

In 12 games with the Hawks, Ball has averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists, lifting his NBA draft stock to the point that he's considered a top-five pick by most draftniks.

ESPN ranks Ball No.2, and he's the top-ranked player in the draft by others.

Ball is the brother of Lonzo and LiAngelo Ball and is training for the draft in California.

Reuters

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Cleveland, this is for you! Moments we can’t forget from Game 7 of the 2016 Finals

In the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit, beating the 73-win Golden State Warriors to give the city of Cleveland its first major professional sports championship in 52 years.

To do so, the Cavs needed to win twice in Oakland, where the Warriors had lost only three times all season.

Matching 41-point games by Kyrie Irving and James kept Cleveland alive in Game 5. Following a Game 6 home win, the Cavs returned to the Bay for an epic Game 7 victory.

ESPN will re-air Games 5 and 7 of the 2016 Finals on Wednesday night, starting at 7 p.m. ET. In advance of those replayed broadcasts, we asked our writers to share their memories of the tense, unforgettable closing minutes of Game 7.

MORE: How to watch the 2016 Finals and more iconic NBA games

Ezeli’s last stand

Injured Warriors center Festus Ezeli entered the game for forward Harrison Barnes with the Cavaliers down 85-83 with 6:16 remaining, and the series shifted. Ezeli, who had come off the bench in the Warriors’ first 22 playoff games, started Game 7 in place of Andrew Bogut, who had suffered a season-ending left knee injury in Game 5.

Before Ezeli entered, the Warriors had the momentum at Oracle Arena with a 5-0 run courtesy of a 3-pointer by Stephen Curry and a layup by Klay Thompson. Draymond Green then extended Golden State’s lead with a putback of a missed Curry layup with 5:37 left.

But on the next possession, James forced the 6-foot-11 Ezeli to guard him one-on-one. James, who had not made a 3-pointer all night, faked a shot behind the line. A slow-moving Ezeli bit and fouled him with 5:24 remaining. With the clock stopped, James made all three free throws to trim the Cavaliers’ deficit to just 87-86 and turn the tide.

In a game the Warriors lost by four, Golden State was outscored by nine points in the 11 minutes Ezeli played. He finished scoreless with one rebound and has not played in an NBA game since. (Ezeli had left knee surgery in March 2017.)

— Marc J. Spears

LeBron’s clutch 3

For all of James’ gifts, long-range shooting has forever been where James’ otherworldly talent returns to earth.

In 2015-16, James drained fewer than 31% of his attempts from beyond the arc, but with the Cavaliers trailing the Warriors inside of five minutes, circumstance overrode probabilities. Just after drawing a 3-point foul on Ezeli, James again hunted the mismatch — drawing poor Ezeli off a pick-and-roll.

As he has done so often, James guided the action to his left hand, took three dribbles, wiggled a sidestep with his left leg, then launched a 3-pointer over Ezeli that vaulted the Cavaliers into the lead 89-87.

It’s easy to forget the inevitability that followed the Warriors during their historic season. Even when they trailed, there was a sense that the basketball gods would soon correct the ledger in their favor.

Until that shot.

It was the fateful stroke that defied history for Cleveland. It was the first time in a year when the inevitability of a second straight Warriors title truly came into question.

It was the moment when anyone with a pulse on the way strange events upend history in sports said, “This might happen.”

— Kevin Arnovitz

The block

The thing to me about the block — or The Block, as Northeast Ohioans will always refer to it with reverence — is the sheer audacity of effort by James. The score was tied at 89 with less than two minutes left when Andre Iguodala turned an Irving carom into a chance to take off toward the basket.

Iguodala passed it ahead to Curry, Curry returned it to Iguodala. And with a full head of steam, it seemed inevitable that he’d either score over JR Smith — the Cavs’ only defender back in transition — or be fouled. Instead, James homed in on Iguodala and pinned the shot against the upper portion of the backboard for a chasedown block. His hand was 11 feet, 5 inches off the ground when he met the ball, according to John Brenkus of ESPN Sports Science.

It was a play that combined timing, extreme athleticism and the savviness to raise both hands to take away the reverse option for Iguodala. In the 45th minute of the 47 he would log in the final game of the season, James pulled off the block. It will surely be honored in bronze someday.

— Dave McMenamin

The shot

With 1:09 to play and the score still tied, the Cavs called timeout. As Ty Lue gathered with his staff, James tried to catch the head coach’s eye from his seat on the bench. As he did, James emphatically pointed to Irving. That’s where he wanted the shot to go.

James got the hell out of the way, inbounding the ball and running to a corner. Kevin Love and Richard Jefferson — inserted in place of center Tristan Thompson for just this purpose — spaced the floor. The Cavs ran a screen with Smith to switch the taller Klay Thompson off and force Curry onto Irving.

Irving then moved to his favorite spot, the right wing. This is where he made a subtle but important move: often when right-handed shooters go into step-back maneuvers, they cross over from left to right to get momentum. Irving did the opposite.

He was dribbling with his right hand, indicating he might drive and shield Curry with his left shoulder. Instead, Irving executed a quick sideways escape dribble and rose up into a step-back 3. Curry was caught for the briefest second on his heels — he’d loaded to go backward.

That few inches of airspace allowed Irving to get the shot off cleanly over Curry’s otherwise strong contest.

Bang.

— Brian Windhorst

The stop

After Irving put the Cavs ahead by three with less than a minute to go, the Warriors got the exact matchup they wanted: Curry, the NBA’s unanimous MVP, against Love, one of Cleveland’s worst defenders. That Golden State secured that matchup at all was a nifty piece of work that required two screens. First, Iguodala, who was being guarded by Love, screened James, who was guarding Green, to force a switch. Then, Green screened Irving to get Love onto Curry.

In that moment, it felt fated that — like so many other times during that 73-win season — Curry and the Warriors would come back to win.

Only this time, they didn’t, in part because of the defensive possession of Love’s life.

Love forced Curry to give up the ball to Green, nearly turning it over, only to then get it back, fail to get by Love and hoist up an off-balance 3-pointer that still nearly went in.

It was that moment — when the Warriors got that matchup and that shot didn’t fall — when reality finally sunk in at Oracle Arena. This time, the Warriors would not be pulling off another great escape.

— Tim Bontemps

The near dunk

My most visceral memory of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals is James in pain on the ground in the closing seconds. After all those memorable plays, it was still a one-possession game when Irving set up James for an audacious dunk attempt with 10.6 seconds left and Green met him at the rim.

The contact sent James tumbling to the ground and he landed hard on his right wrist. From my vantage point on that end of the court, I immediately started thinking about what would happen if James were seriously injured.

Who might Steve Kerr select off the Cavaliers’ bench to shoot the free throws? Would Cleveland have to play a possible overtime without the MVP? Was James mortal?

Instead, James shook off the pain, and — after missing the first attempt — made the second to extend the Cavaliers’ lead to four points and seal the game.

— Kevin Pelton

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